According to Bronfenbrenner (1979), the child’s family is part of the microsystem which is the most immediate environmental system that affects the child’s development. Parenting style plays an important role in family dynamics, and it may be understood as the expression of particular behaviour and the constellation of attitudes communicated to children, through which an “emotional climate” is created (Darling & Steinberg, 1993). Therefore, children’s emotional development may be socialised through family processes including parenting style and modelling in the family (Bandura, 1999; Morris, Silk, Steinberg, Myers, ; Robinson, 2007).
The conceptions of parenting styles have been traditionally based on Baumrind’s typology (Baumrind, 1967; Baumrind, 1991). Along the two dimensions of parental responsiveness (the degree of responsiveness to the child’s needs) and demandingness (the extent of control over the child), Baumrind classified parenting styles into three categories: authoritarian, permissive, and authoritative. The authoritarian parenting style is characterised by being unresponsive and highly demanding, setting high expectations for children with little warmth or support; whereas the permissive parenting style is characterised by being overly responsive to children’s demands without setting rules or high expectations. The authoritative parenting style was considered to be optimal by Baumrind (1991), as it involved a combination of high responsiveness and high demandingness, being attentive to children’s needs while imposing clear and appropriate demands. Maccoby and Martin (1983) further expanded upon Baumrind’s typology and added the “neglectful parenting style” as the fourth category, which is characterised by being unresponsive and undemanding towards children.
Research has traditionally focused on parenting as the discrete styles described i.e., authoritarian, permissive, authoritative, neglectful (Dornbusch, Ritter, Leiderman, Roberts, & Fraleigh, 1987; Wolfradt, Hempel, & Miles, 2003). However, a more dimensional approach of studying parenting has begun to gain its popularity recently (Pinquart, 2017). Instead of defining parenting by the presence or absence of the dimensions (i.e., responsiveness, demandingness) as proposed by Baumrind (1967) as well as Maccoby and Martin (1983), some have suggested that parenting styles actually lie on a continuum (Soysa & Weiss, 2014). Studying parenting along its individual dimensions (such as parental warmth/responsiveness and demandingness) may also allow for more flexible comparisons (Pinquart, 2017). In particular, research has indicated that the level of parental demandingness or control was related to anxiety and other mental health outcomes in children (Pinquart, 2017; Soysa & Weiss, 2014; Niditch & Varela, 2012; McLeod, Wood, & Weisz, 2007). Parental demandingness has been suggested to take different forms, including behavioural control (efforts to monitor children’s behaviour), psychological control (attempts to control children’s psychological experiences), and the lack of autonomy granting (encouragement of children’s own decision making; Pinquart, 2017). A positive correlation was found between high demandingness from parents and children’s anxiety in novel situations (Cooper-Vince, Pincus, & Comer, 2014). Parents who are highly controlling might often accomplish tasks for their children that could be completed independently otherwise, and therefore lowering their children’s self-confidence and problem-solving abilities (Cooper-Vince et al., 2014; Jongerden ; Bogels, 2015). It was also found that parental pressure in academic achievement was positively correlated with worry and test anxiety (Putwain, Woods, ; Symes, 2010), as children might have internalised parental demands as their own cognitive expectancies (Bandura, 1999; Soysa ; Weiss, 2014).
Anxiety or other mental health conditions are often considered to be contributed by the interaction between personal and environmental factors, such that certain personal risk factors may not necessarily lead to mental health problems, given the existence of appropriate and sufficient protective factors in the environment (Hettema, Prescott, Myers, Neale, ; Kendler, 2005). Previous literature suggested that parental demandingness might moderate the relationship between EF and anxiety (Bernier, Carlson, ; Whipple, 2010; Hughes, Roman, Hart, ; Ensor, 2013). It was found that negative emotional climate in the family was associated with poorer EF of the children (Hughes et al., 2013), and that negative correlations were found between parental control and both set-shifting and inhibition abilities in children (Bernier et al., 2010). The exposure to stress may have negative influences on children’s EF capacities (Pechtel, & Pizzagalli, 2011). Furthermore, as anxiety is suggested to be related to worrying about one’s own competence in overcoming a future threat, it often involves self-evaluation and comparison against the assumed external standards (Rapee ; Heimberg, 1997). Stress from both the self and the environment may play important roles in contributing to anxiety. When parental demandingness is high, parental demands may be internalised by children as their own cognitive expectancies (Bandura, 1999; Soysa ; Weiss, 2014). Children with poorer EF may find it more difficult to meet the expectations or shift their attention from the controlling statements of their parents, compared to those with better EF, resulting in stress and self-criticisms which are related to increased anxiety (Gilbert et al., 2008). However, when parents are relatively less demanding, the effect of EF on anxiety may be reduced, as children may be able to meet the lowered standards irrespective of their EF abilities. They may also be less likely to internalise parental pressure and set high expectations for themselves across different aspects in life, creating lower demands for EF and attenuating the relationship between EF and anxiety (Bandura, 1999; Soysa ; Weiss, 2014).
The Role of Parenting in the Eastern Culture
The Eastern culture has been suggested to be higher on the collectivistic values than Western cultures (Oyserman, Coon, ; Kemmelmeier, 2002), suggesting that conformity and compliance are more valued in the East. In particular, parents who adhered strongly to Chinese cultural values were found to place greater emphasis on filial piety and academic achievement (Ho, 1994) than the psychosocial development of children (Stevenson et al., 1990). These socio-cultural norms and beliefs may influence parenting practices (Chao, 1996). Traditional Chinese values were found to be correlated with authoritarian and authoritative parenting styles (Xu, Farver, Zhang, Zeng, Yu, ; Cai, 2005), showing higher levels of directiveness and coercion (Lansford et al., 2005).
There seem to be inconsistent findings regarding the relationship between parenting and emotional wellbeing among children from the Eastern culture. On the one hand, some studies have shown that Chinse parenting styles were related to psychological outcomes in children in a pattern similarly found in Western contexts, and in particular, it was primarily the demandingness dimension that was related to anxiety and maladaptive social functioning (Zhou, Eisenberg, Wang, ; Reiser, 2004; Porter et al., 2005). On the other hand, some have shown that highly controlling parental behaviours in collectivistic cultures were less associated with low parental warmth and negative views of the children, compared to those from individualistic backgrounds, implying that higher parental demandingness might not necessarily lead to poorer psychological outcomes in children from collectivistic cultures (Rudy ; Grusec, 2006). Besides, few studies have investigated the relationship between parenting and EF in the Chinese culture, although Zhou and colleagues (2004) found that authoritarian parenting was associated with poorer cognitive control. Therefore, there is a need for further research into the relationships among parental demandingness, EF and anxiety in the Eastern culture.
Various methods have been used to measure parenting or parental demandingness in particular, such as child- or parent-report (Robinson, Mandleco, Olsen, ; Hart, 2001), and observer ratings (Zaslow et al., 2006). Studies have generally found that observational measures showed the most consistent associations between parenting and anxiety (Zaslow et al., 2006; McLeod et al., 2007), and that self-report might be subject to bias such that results were inconsistent across different informants (Pinquart, 2017). One of the most commonly used standardised observational measures is the Dyadic Parent-Child Interaction Coding System (DPICS), which evaluates parent-child interactions using real-life situations (Eyberg ; Robinson, 1981; Shanley ; Niec, 2011). Parent verbalisations or behaviours are coded based on various behaviour categories such as Direct Command, Indirect Command, and Critical Statement. The DPICS has shown its sensitivity in evaluating parenting practices, treatment outcomes, and child behavioural problems (Borrego, Timmer, Urquiza, ; Follette, 2004; Bagner ; Eyberg, 2007; Shanley ; Niec, 2011). It is suggested to be a more objective and realistic assessment tool than self-report or questionnaires (Thornberry, ; Brestan-Knight, 2011).