Parental self-efficacy and competence

Using parental self-efficacy (or efficacy) and competence as an evaluation criteria for parents, carers and families

Parental self-efficacy (the belief that one will be able to perform parenting tasks successfully) has been shown to be a critical factor in parenting quality. As well, efficacious parenting beliefs are often associated with greater competence in performing parenting tasks. Specifically, research suggests that high levels of parental self-efficacy are associated with:

  • increased quality of parent-child interactions
  • increased parental warmth and responsiveness
  • parental involvement with and monitoring of adolescents.

These parental characteristics may in turn act as protective factors that reduce the likelihood of child and adolescent anxiety, depression and behaviour problems, while promoting higher self-esteem, school performance and social functioning. Research has shown that parental self-efficacy may be changed through intervention programs.

Programs and interventions dealing with self-efficacy and competence in parents with a mental illness might focus on:

  • providing parents with instruction on parenting skills and tasks and/or modelling appropriate parenting behaviours
  • changing parental self-efficacy beliefs and parenting cognitions
  • providing education about child development and age-appropriate abilities
  • teaching parents effective discipline and other strategies to improve positive interactions with their children.

Click on the headings below to read more:

Self-efficacy and competence - the concepts

Research has found parental self-efficacy and competence to be important variables in child developmental outcomes. It is suggested that parents who report high levels of parental self-efficacy also demonstrate high levels of parental competence, which in turn foster positive developmental outcomes in their children. Parents who report low parental self-efficacy tend to engage in ineffective and detrimental parenting behaviours, which put their children at risk of poorer developmental outcomes.

It is also proposed that parental self-efficacy and competence may:

  • mediate the risk arising from parental depression
  • mediate adversity associated with disadvantaged living circumstances
  • reduce the likelihood of child temperament problems arising.

Factors thought to negatively influence parental self-efficacy include a temperamentally-difficult infant, insufficient social support, parental depression and child health problems (Jones & Prinz, 2005).

This section examines the conceptual framework surrounding parental self-efficacy and competency and issues around the definition of key terms. Some measures designed to assess parental self-efficacy and competence are also reviewed.

Theoretical background

Conceptual ambiguity and overlap exist between parental self-efficacy and competence (see the 'Definition of parental self-efficacy, competence and related terms' section), so both concepts will be examined.

Parental self-efficacy

Parental self-efficacy emerges from general self-efficacy theory as proposed by Albert Bandura. Self-efficacy is defined as 'people's beliefs about their capabilities to produce designated levels of performance that exercise influence over events that affect their lives' (Bandura, 1994). Self-efficacy is important to human functioning as it influences people's emotions, thoughts, motivation and behaviour. In terms of parental self-efficacy, Bandura (1997, in Sanders & Woolley, 2005, p. 66) proposes that individuals high in parental self-efficacy are able to guide their children through the developmental stages they face without serious problems or undue strain on their relationship with their spouse or partner. Individuals low in parental self-efficacy may struggle to meet familial demands and are at risk of stress and depression.

According to self-efficacy theory, parental self-efficacy should comprise:

  • knowledge regarding parenting behaviours
  • a degree of confidence regarding one's ability to perform parenting behaviours (Coleman & Karraker, 1997).

The exact nature of the influence that self-efficacy has on parenting behaviour is still being debated. Jones & Prinz (2005) argue that parental self-efficacy may be an antecedent, consequence, mediator or transactional variable. The table below details the relationship between the various conceptualisations of parental self-efficacy and key variables.

Parental self-efficacy (PSE) conceptual frameworks

Conceptualisation of PSE

Related variables


Antecedent Parental competence Individuals with high PSE are confident in their ability to acquire and exercise effective parenting skills, therefore leading to higher levels of parental competence.
  • Ecological context
  • Low socioeconomic status (SES)
  • Neighbourhood factors
  • Child characteristics (eg ADHD, autism)
Parents with low education levels and/or financial pressures may face challenges that undermine their ability to develop PSE. With lower levels of PSE, their level of parental competence may also be compromised. Perceiving that they have low levels of parental competence then reinforces their low levels of PSE.
  • Ecological variables
  • Parental competence
Environmental factors such as the presence of maternal depression and/or lack of adequate social support may reduce the parent's confidence, leading to less effective parenting. This then reinforces low levels of PSE.
Transactional variable
  • Parent satisfaction
  • Stress
  • Child outcomes
Parents high in PSE may derive high levels of satisfaction from their parenting behaviours, which leads to continuation of effective parenting behaviours and therefore increases the likelihood of positive child outcomes. These positive outcomes contribute to increases in the parent's PSE. Conversely, parents with low PSE may experience high levels of frustration, child behavioural problems and poor outcomes which erode their sense of PSE.


How does parental self-efficacy develop?

In their review of parental self-efficacy, Coleman and Karraker (1997) outline four possible mechanisms through which parental self-efficacy develops. These mechanisms are:

  1. Childhood experiences: Individuals bring to the parenting role internal models of what they perceive the parenting relationship will be like. These beliefs are based upon general relationships with others, but also the attachment style received from their primary caregiver during childhood.
  2. External messages: The key messages that cultures and communities deliver regarding parenting values, child development and instrumental parenting tasks influence our level of perceived parental self-efficacy. However, it is argued that this avenue is likely to have minimal influence - the messages we receive from others in our social network are more likely to influence levels of parental self-efficacy.
  3. Actual experiences of mothering: These experiences include an individual's encounters with their own children, or the children of relatives, friends and other community members. The feedback provided from such adult-child interactions is argued by some researchers to be the key determinant of the individual's judgement about their parenting competence, and therefore should have a strong influence on their parental self-efficacy.
  4. Degree of cognitive or behavioural preparation for the maternal role: Although this position lacks systematic research, there is some suggestion that the cognitions experienced by an expectant mother during pregnancy may influence their parental self-efficacy. For example, the ability to confidently visualise oneself as a mother has been linked to affectionate responses towards one's infant.

What is the relationship between parental self-efficacy and parental competence?

Research has found that parental self-efficacy is strongly linked to parental competence. Generally, parents with stronger parenting self-efficacy demonstrate higher levels of parental competence in that they are able to perform the behaviours required to successfully raise a child. High parental self-efficacy is also linked to adaptive parenting behaviours such as:

  • being responsive to child needs
  • non-punitive caretaking
  • active parent-child interactions
  • parental acceptance and promotion of child concerns
  • using active coping strategies (Coleman & Karraker, 1997).

The relationship between low parental self-efficacy and parent and child outcomes is problematic, and strongly supports the need for interventions to improve parental self-efficacy. Low parental self-efficacy is linked to:

  • parental depression and learned helplessness
  • controlling parental behaviours
  • behaviour problems in children
  • high reported stress levels
  • the use of passive coping strategies (Coleman & Karraker, 1997).

Based on their review of the literature, Coleman and Karraker (1997) concluded that 'it is possible to assert with certainty that high parenting self-efficacy is strongly related to maternal ability to foster a healthy, happy and nurturant child-rearing environment' (p. 62).

Definition of parental self-efficacy, competence and related terms

A clear, universally accepted definition of parental competence is difficult to find, largely due to strong conceptual overlap with other psychological constructs such as parental self-efficacy, maternal self-efficacy and parental confidence. While some authors argue that the concepts are distinct (eg de Montigny & Lacharité, 2005), others declare that most researchers, despite the term they use, seem to be examining a 'construct analogous with self-efficacy' (Črnčec, Barnett & Matthey, 2008, p. 443). It is often the case that such terms are used interchangeably in the literature, making it difficult to differentiate between the concepts.  

Parental self-efficacy

In a critical review of the concept of parental efficacy, de Montigny and Lacharité (2005) argue that there is a distinction between parental efficacy and parental competence. Specifically they define parental efficacy as 'beliefs or judgements a parent holds of their capabilities to organise and execute a set of tasks related to parenting a child' (p. 390).

Other authors propose similar definitions:

  • 'The belief that one can effectively perform or manage tasks related to parenting.' (Teti & Gelfand, 1991)
  • 'A parent's beliefs in their ability to influence their child and the environment in ways that would foster the child's development and success.' (Ardelt & Eccles, 2001).  

Parental competence

The distinction between parental efficacy and parental competence argued by de Montigny and Lacharité (2005) actually lies in who holds the perception. Parental efficacy is the parent's perception, while they propose that parental competence represents 'judgements that others hold about the parent's abilities' (p. 391).

Other researchers define parental competence as directly related to parenting skills without reference to who makes the judgement of ability. For example, Jones and Prinz (2005) define parental competence as 'parenting behaviours, skills and strategies that have been considered to promote positive and adaptive child development outcomes' (p. 346). Sanders, Markie-Dadds and Turner (2003) view parental competence as strongly linked to self-regulation, the central skill in parental capacity, which enables parents to:

  • select goals
  • monitor their own and their child's behaviour
  • implement strategies
  • evaluate the effectiveness of their parenting behaviours.

Sabatelli and Waldron (1995) argue however, that parental competence is:

  • objective in that it involves a judgement of whether parenting behaviours are consistent with societal norms and expectations. At this level, the judgement of competence is made by external sources (eg other family members, social workers, child protection officers, community nurses)
  • subjective when referring to the parent's assessment of how well they perform within their parenting role relative to their expectations. In this situation 'competent parents are those who favourably evaluate their role performance.' (p. 978)  

Parental confidence

Another related concept is parental confidence, defined as 'a parent's feeling of competence in the parenting role' (Črnčec, Barnett & Matthey, 2008). De Montigny and Lacharité (2005) argue that parental confidence represents the strength or certainty of a belief but does not specify what the certainty relates to.For example, a parent may describe their confidence as high, but may be anxious when bathing their children. Parental self-efficacy may be situation-specific and vary from task to task, so that in this example the parent may have low efficacy when bathing their children but high efficacy when feeding, disciplining and playing with them. This parent may describe their parental confidence as high but note the distinctions in efficacy levels.

Measures of self-efficacy and competence

There are several parental self-efficacy and competence scales, however, some have been more widely used than others and therefore have stronger research support. Two important factors need to be considered when selecting a measure:

  1. Does the instrument measure parenting behaviours that are appropriate for the age and developmental stage of the child?
  2. Does the instrument measure general parenting efficacy and competency (ie no focus on specific parenting behaviours or particular parenting domain) OR does it measure task-specific parenting efficacy and competency?

In relation to the second consideration, Bandura argues that task-level parental self-efficacy may be more predictive of actual performance of parental behaviours as 'specific self-efficacy beliefs guide a person's behaviour and dictate how well activities are performed' (Bandura, 1997, in Sanders & Woolley, 2005, p. 66).

For a summary of some of the parental self-efficacy and competence measures reviewed below, see the 'Key readings' section.  

Parenting Sense of Competence Scale (PSOC)

The PSOC scale is the most widely used measure of parental self-efficacy. The scale has two factors:

  1. Parental satisfaction - "the quality of affect associated with parenting"
  2. Efficacy - "the degree to which a parent feels competent and confident in handling child problems" (Johnston & Mash, 1989, p. 251).

Structure of the measure

The scale contains 17 items (although the last item is often omitted) which are rated on a six-point Likert scale. The scale is made up of two subscales: satisfaction with parenting and self-efficacy in the parenting role.

Construct validity

The PSOC scale has demonstrated anticipated correlations with measures of other aspects of family life. For example, there is a significant negative correlation between parental satisfaction and child behaviour problems. There are also significant correlations between the PSOC scale and the Parenting Scale.


A range of studies have reported strong internal consistency for this measure. Internal consistency ratings range from 0.75-0.88, constituting an acceptable to excellent level of reliability. Test-retest reliability ranging from 0.46-0.85 has been reported.

Evaluation and/or research that has used this measure

Although widely used in research, the PSOC scale has been criticised for an unstable factor structure and lack of normative data. Gilmore and Cuskelly (2008) addressed the lack of normative data but found three factors (adding an interest subscale to measure parental engagement). Therefore the factor structure of the scale remains ambiguous. The normative data provided by Gilmore and Cuskelly is based on a large Australian sample.

For more information regarding normative data and factor structure see: Gilmore, L. & Cuskelly, M. (2008). Factor structure of the parenting sense of competence scale using a normative sample. Child: Care, Health & Development, 35, 48-55.

Availability of the scale

The PSOC scale is included in the article detailing the development of its factor structure: Johnston, C. & Mash, E.J. (1989) A measure of parenting satisfaction and efficacy. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 18, 167-75.

Parenting Scale (PS)

The PS examines parental competence in relation to discipline style, with a focus on dysfunctional discipline. While this scale was originally developed for use on preschool children, it has been successfully adapted for use with school-aged children and adolescents.

Structure of the measure

The scale contains 30 items that cover the discipline styles:

  • Laxness
  • Overreactivity
  • Verbosity

Parents indicate their probability of using a specific discipline strategy using a seven-point Likert scale.

Construct validity

The scale's authors (Arnold et al.) report that the PS is able to differentiate between parents attending a clinic for their children's behaviour difficulties and parents not receiving an intervention. Scores on the PS are also significantly correlated with behaviour observations measuring dysfunctional discipline. Other researchers have demonstrated significant correlations of the PS with other parenting measures such as the Parental Stress Index and the PSOC scale.


The scale's authors report that the internal consistency of the laxness (alpha = 0.83) and overreactivity (alpha = 0.82) subscales and total scale (alpha = 0.84) are good. The verbosity subscale has a lower reliability (alpha = 0.63). Similar reliability levels are reported by other researchers who consistently find that the verbosity scale possesses lower reliability than the other subscales and the total measure.

Test-retest reliability exceeds 0.80 for laxness, overreactivity and total scale, while verbosity test-retest reliability is alpha = 0.79.

Evaluation and/or research that has used this measure

The PS has been used widely in research and the factor structure examined by several other researchers. Several studies suggest that the PS is better represented by a two-factor structure that eliminates the verbosity subscale. However, a study examining the psychometric properties of the scale in an Australian sample confirmed the original factor structure.

See the following references for more information:

Arney, F., Rogers, H., Baghurst, P., Sawyer, M. & Prior, M. (2008). The reliability and validity of the Parenting Scale for Australian mothers of pre-school aged children. Australian Journal of Psychology, 60, 44-52.

Rhoades, K.A. & O'Leary, S. G. (2007). Factor structure and validity of the Parenting Scale. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 36, 137-46.

Availability of the scale

The primary reference detailing the development of the PS is:

Arnold, D. S., O'Leary, S. G., Wolff, L. S. & Acker, M. M. (1993). The Parenting Scale: a measure of dysfunctional parenting in discipline situations. Psychological Assessment, 5, 2, 137-44.

Parental Stress Index (Short Form) (PSI/SF)

The PSI/SF, derived directly from the longer version of the scale, is based on factor analyses which suggested a three-factor structure. The scale is designed for use with parents of children aged 12 years or younger.

The Stress Index for Parenting Adolescents is available for children aged 11-19 years.

Structure of the measure

The measure consists of 36 items that examine three aspects of parent-child relationships:

  • Parent-child dysfunctional interactions
  • Parental distress
  • Difficult child characteristics.

Parents respond using a five-point Likert scale. The scale is estimated to take 10-15 minutes to complete.

Construct validity

The PSI/SF has demonstrated the expected relationships with other measures, suggesting adequate levels of construct validity. For example, the parental distress subscale is strongly correlated with parent reports of psychological symptoms, and the difficult child subscale correlates with measures of child oppositional behaviour.


High internal consistencies are typically reported. The reported reliability in the study conducted by Reitman, Currier and Stickle (2002) for each subscale and total stress are: parent-child dysfunctional interactions: 0.88; parental distress: 0.88; difficult child characteristics: 0.89; total stress: 0.95.

Evaluation and/or research that has used this measure

Limited data on the psychometric properties of the short form is available (ie the reliability is described as 'highly internally consistent') and at present there is no normative data. Furthermore, there is some debate in the literature about whether the PSI/SF contains one, two or three factors. However, the scale is widely used and provides a quick and easy way to examine parental stress.

The original PSI is also available but at 101 items it is considerably longer. An advantage of using the longer version is that it examines both child and parent domains. The child domains include:

  • Distractibility and/or hyperactivity
  • Ddaptability
  • Reinforces parent
  • Demandingness
  • Mood
  • Acceptability

Parent domains include:

  • Competence
  • Social isolation
  • Attachment to child
  • Health
  • Role restriction
  • Depression
  • Spouse

The author (Abidin, 1995) strongly urges using the longer version of the PSI rather than the short form, arguing that the time saved by using the shorter version is not worth the loss of information.

Availability of the scale

The PSI/SF scale is available for purchase from Psychological Assessment Resources Inc (PAR).  

Parenting Self-Agency Measure (PSAM)

This scale aims to assess the general level of confidence parents have in their ability to engage in successful parenting behaviours. The PSAM examines these areas:

  • Confidence
  • Helplessness in the face of child opposition
  • Ability to resolve parent-child conflict
  • Effort in parenting and persistence

Structure of the measure

The PSAM consists of a ten-item scale in which participants respond using a seven-point Likert scale. A five-item version is also available.

Construct validity

Evidence of validity is provided through correlations with the PSAM and parenting practices and coping style.


Internal consistency is reported to range from 0.68-0.70, suggesting that the scale has adequate reliability for a developing measure.

Evaluation and/or research that has used this measure

The PSAM has not been widely used in research, however, the scale may have cross-cultural utility, as it was developed in both Anglo and Mexican populations. Further work is required to adequately demonstrate the scale's reliability and validity.

The scale's development is outlined in the article:

Dumka, L. E., Stoerzinger, H. D., Jackson, K. M. & Roosa, M. W. (1996). Examining the cross-cultural and cross-language equivalence of the parenting self-agency measure. Family Relations, 45, 216-22.

Availability of the scale

The scale is outlined in the article by Dumka et al. (1996). Further information can be obtained from the developer, Larry Dumka, email: 

Maternal Self-Efficacy Scale

This scale is designed to assess the mother's feeling of efficacy relating to specific tasks associated with infant care (eg soothing, establishing routine). The scale was developed in a study to examine maternal depression, infant difficulty and maternal competence.

Structure of the measure

The scale consists of ten items, nine of which assess task-specific aspects of infant care, while the tenth question represents a global assessment of efficacy in mothering. Participants respond using a four-point Likert scale.

Construct validity

The Maternal Self-Efficacy Scale is negatively correlated with the Parental Stress Index Sense of Competence Scale (r = -0.75).


Internal consistency reported as 0.86 constitutes a very good level of reliability. Test-retest reliability is reported to range from 0.70-0.92.

Evaluation and/or research that has used this measure

The value of the Maternal Self-Efficacy Scale is restricted as it only measures a mother's parental efficacy with infants. The scale has been adapted for use with toddlers in one research study however insufficient information is available regarding the revised measure.

Availability of the scale

A full version of the scale is available in the resource (See 'key readings' below: Redman, 1988, pp. 206-9).

Karitane Parenting Confidence Scale (KPCS)

The KPCS is an Australian scale designed to measure perceived parental self-efficacy in parents of infants aged 0-12 months.

Structure of the measure

The KPCS is a 15-item scale in which parents respond using a four-point Likert scale to indicate how they generally feel in relation to a range of parenting behaviours (however, a global parental self-efficacy score is available). The scale has a three-factor structure:

  1. Parenting
  2. Support
  3. Child development

Construct validity

Construct validity is demonstrated through the expected correlation with other parental self-efficacy measures: parenting stress, parenting satisfaction and depression scores.


The reported reliability of the KPCS and its subscales is: Total score: 0.81; Parenting: 0.80; Support: 0.64; Child development: 0.44; test-retest reliability: 0.88.

Due to the less than adequate reliability of the support and child development subscales, the authors recommend only using the KPCS total score at this time.

Evaluation and/or research that has used this measure

The KPCS is a new measure that demonstrates promise for its use with parents of infants. Further research is required to develop the scale's reliability and determine whether a three-factor model is an accurate representation of the measure.

Availability of the scale

The scale is included in the article Črnčec, Barnett & Matthey, 2008, pg 442-53, or by contacting Dr Rudi Črnčec, email:

Programs and interventions

Phelan, R., Lee, L., Howe, D. & Walter, G. (2006). Parenting and mental illness: a pilot group program for parents. Australasian Psychiatry, 14, 4, 399-402. The Parenting and Mental Illness Group Program is a six-week program followed by four weekly, individual home visits.

On Track - Northern Kids Care: this early intervention and preventative support program for children or young people aged up to 18 years recognises that isolation and social support may be an issue for children and young people.

Key readings

Barnes, C. R. & Adamson-Macedo, E. N. (2007). Perceived maternal parenting self-efficacy (PMP S-E) tool: Development and validation with mothers of hospitalised pre-term neonates. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 60, 550-60.

Coleman, P. K. & Karraker, K. H. (1997). Self-efficacy and parenting quality: findings and future applications. Developmental Review, 18, 47-85.

de Montigny, F. & Lacharité, C. (2005). Perceived parental efficacy: Concept analysis. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 49, 387-96.

Jones, T. L. & Prinz, R. J. (2005). Potential roles of parental self-efficacy in parent and child adjustment: a review. Clinical Psychology Review, 25, 341-63.

Other references

Ardelt, M. & Eccles, J. S. (2001). Effects of mothers' parental efficacy beliefs and promotive parenting strategies on inner-city youth. Journal of Family Issues, 22, 8, November, 944-72.

Arney, F., Rogers, H., Baghurst, P., Sawyer, M. & Prior, M. (2008). The reliability and validity of the Parenting Scale for Australian mothers of pre-school aged children. Australian Journal of Psychology, 60, 44-52.

Bandura, A. (1994). Regulative function of perceived self-efficacy. In M. G. Rumsey, C. B. Walker & J. H. Harris (Eds.), Personal selection and classification (pp. 261-71). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In R. J. Corsini (Ed.), Encyclopedia of psychology (2nd ed., Vol. 3, pp. 368-9). New York: Wiley.

Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71-81). New York: Academic Press.

Bandura, A. (1997) Self-efficacy: the exercise of control. Freeman, New York. In M. R. Sanders & M. L. Woolley. The relationship between maternal self-efficacy and parenting practices: implications for parent training. Child: Care, Health & Development, 31, 1, 65-73.

Črnčec, R., Barnett, B. & Matthey, S. (2008). Development of an instrument to assess perceived self-efficacy in the parents of infants. Research in Nursing and Health, 31, 442-53.

Dumka, L. E., Stoerzinger, H. D., Jackson, K. M. & Roosa, M. W. (1996). Examining the cross-cultural and cross-language equivalence of the parenting self-agency measure. Family Relations, 45, 216-22.

Gilmore, L., & Cuskelly, M. (2008). Factor structure of the parenting sense of competence scale using a normative sample. Child: Care, Health & Development, 35, 48-55.

Johnston, C. & Mash, E.J. (1989) A measure of parenting satisfaction and efficacy. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 18, 167-75.

Redman, B. K. (1998). Measurement tools in patient education. New York: Springer Pub. Co.

Reitman, D., Currier, R. O. & Stickle, T. (2002). A critical evaluation of the Parenting Stress Index-Short Form (PSI/SF) in a Head Start population. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 31, 384-92.

Rhoades, K.A. & O'Leary, S. G. (2007). Factor structure and validity of the Parenting Scale. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 36, 137-46.

Sabatelli, R. M. & Waldron, R. J. (1995). Measurement issues in the assessment of the experiences of parenthood. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 57, 969-80.

Sanders, M. R., Markie-Dadds, C. & Turner, K. M. T. (2003). Theoretical, scientific and clinical foundations of the Triple P - Positive Parenting Program: a population approach to the promotion of parenting competence. Parenting Research and Practice Monograph, 1, 1-21.

Sanders, M. R. & Woolley, M. L. (2005). The relationship between maternal self-efficacy and parenting practices: implications for parent training. Child: Care, Health and Development, 31, 1, 65-73.

Teti, D. M. & Gelfand, D. M. (1991). Behavioral competence among mothers of infants in the first year: the mediational role of maternal self-efficacy. Child Development, 62, 918-29.