There is growing interest in the relationship between general parenting and childhood obesity. However, assessing general parenting via surveys can be difficult due to issues with self-report and differences in the underlying constructs being measured. As a result, different aspects of parenting have been associated with obesity risk. We developed a more objective tool to assess general parenting by using observational methods during a mealtime interaction.
The General Parenting Observational Scale (GPOS) was based on prior work of Baumrind, Maccoby and Martin, Barber, and Slater and Power. Ten dimensions of parenting were included; 4 were classified in the emotional dimension of parenting (warmth and affection, support and sensitivity, negative affect, detachment), and 6 were classified in the behavioral dimension of parenting (firm discipline and structure, demands for maturity, psychological control, physical control, permissiveness, neglect). Overweight children age 8–12 years old and their parent (n = 44 dyads) entering a weight control program were videotaped eating a family meal. Parents were coded for their general parenting behaviors. The Mealtime Family Interaction Coding System (MICS) and several self-report measures of general parenting were also used to assess the parent–child interaction. Spearman’s correlations were used to assess correlation between measures.
The emotional dimensions of warmth/affection and support/sensitivity, and the behavioral dimension of firm discipline/structure were robustly captured during the family meals. Warmth/affection and support/sensitivity were significantly correlated with affect management, interpersonal involvement, and communication from the MICS. Firm discipline/structure was inversely correlated with affect management, behavior control, and task accomplishment. Parents who were older, with higher educational status, and lower BMIs were more likely to display warmth/affection and support/sensitivity.
Several general parenting dimensions from the GPOS were highly correlated with similar family functioning constructs from the MICS. This new observational tool appears to be a valid means of assessing general parenting behaviors during mealtimes and adds to our ability to measure parent-level factors affecting child weight-related outcomes. Future evaluation of this tool in a broader range of the population and other family settings should be conducted.