Research Watch

A person-centered approach to understanding the parenting behaviours of biological fathers

Year of Publication
Reviewed By
Jennifer Nutton

Lee, S.J., Kim, J., Yaylor, C., & Perron, B. (2011). Profiles of disciplinary behaviors among biological fathers. Child Maltreatment, 16(1), 51-62.


Research suggests that when fathers are positively involved in the care of their children (e.g., by providing emotional support, appropriate discipline, supervision), the risk of negative youth behaviours such as delinquency are reduced. Conversely, when fathers are negatively involved with family members (i.e., substance abuse, mental health problems, intimate partner violence), there is increased risk of harm to the children in the home. This exploratory study focuses on the parenting behaviours among involved, biological fathers to better understand the effects of both positive and negative disciplinary techniques. Unlike much of the research on parenting, this study focuses on paternal not maternal disciplinary behaviours. This study is also unique in its use of a person-centered approach, such as latent class analysis (LCA), to better understand the disciplinary behaviours of fathers by assigning them to mutually exclusive subgroups based on their responses to 14 variables.

This study used data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (which collects data through interviews with mothers and fathers at birth and again when the child is one and three years of age) and the follow-up In-Home Longitudinal Study of Pre-School Aged Children (interviews conducted with mothers only who completed the FFCWS core interview). To assess fathers’ discipline of their three year old child, data were collected from a subsample of (n=1,238) mother and father participants. Information was collected only on the parenting behaviours of biological fathers residing in the home. The Parent-Child Conflict Tactics Scales was used in the LCA model to assess both nonaggressive and aggressive disciplinary behaviours. Participants were assigned to subgroups based on four paternal parenting profiles (low discipline, low aggression, moderate physical aggression and high physical and psychological aggression). Results of the study indicated the most serious form of discipline, psychological aggression (e.g., calling the child dumb/lazy, shaking the child and pinching) were uncommon among all groups. The most prevalent forms of discipline were nonaggressive, which included explaining what was wrong and giving the child something else to do and taking away privileges. Fathers in the high physical and psychological aggression group were more likely to have children with higher levels of aggression. Parental arguing and father’s perceived support from the child’s mother were virtually equal among all four parenting profiles. The authors suggest that normative parental arguing may not differentiate fathers in relation to their parenting style. However, results demonstrated that more serious forms of marital conflict increased the risk of psychological or physical aggression towards the child.

Methodological Notes

As an exploratory study, it is important to note the potential benefits of using a person-centered approach. For example, the LCA revealed qualitative differences among the subgroups of parenting profiles that total scores from the Parent-Child Conflict Tactics Scales (PCCTS) would not. However, the LCA model also revealed limitations as the ability to detect differences between groups is determinant on having a large enough sample within each of the subgroups; and, in this study, the size of the high physical and psychological aggression parenting profile group was small (n=42). The Parent-Child Conflict Tactics Scales used in this study has been widely used in parenting research and in many countries, which speaks to the reliability and validity of this measurement. However, there are methodological limitations around scales of self-reports particularly when participants are asked about their own socially undesirable behaviours leading to underreporting. Finally, the sample only included biological fathers residing in the home so the findings are not generalizable to non-biological fathers residing in the home or biological fathers not residing in the home.