The Parenting Stress Index (PSI), developed by Richard Abidin in 1976, is a screening and diagnostic assessment tool commonly used to measure the magnitude of stress in the parent-child system. Abidin describes several potential uses of the PSI including screening for the early identification of parenting and family characteristics that fail to produce normal development and functioning in children, identifying children with behavioral and emotional problems, and screening for parents who are at risk for dysfunctional parenting. Abidin has also suggested that the PSI would be useful as a measure of intervention effectiveness and in clinical research. In recent years, the PSI has been used frequently in research investigating child maltreatment and its sequelae.
PSI Description and Development
The development of the PSI has been influenced by changes in theoretical models specifying the determinants of dysfunctional parenting. Early formulations of the model emphasized “stress” as the central construct leading to dysfunctional parenting. By 1982, a more complex model had emerged. Research revealed that stress and dysfunctional parenting were not related in linear fashion. Instead, child characteristics, parent characteristics, family contact, and life stressors all appeared to contribute to the functioning of the parent-child system. The parenting stress construct had become more complex and multifaceted.
In recent years, research has revealed that stress in the parenting system, especially within the first 3 years of life, is critical to the child’s emotional/ behavioral development and the parent-child relationship. Moreover, parenting stressors are additive and include objective events such as the death of a family member, as well as more subjective experiences of parental social isolation and concerns about a child’s potential to achieve developmental milestones.
In 1995, the PSI was revised to improve scoring ease and to introduce a short form of the measure. The standard PSI is a 120-item self-report inventory with an optional 19-item Life Stress Scale. There are six Child Domain subscales (Distractibility/Hyperactivity, Adaptability, Reinforces Parent, Demandingness, Mood, and Acceptability) and seven Parent Domain subscales (Competence, Isolation, Attachment, Health, Role Restriction, Depression, and Spouse). Subscale scores are combined to generate the Parent Domain, Child Domain, and Total Stress factors. Parents of children as young as 1 month and as old as 12 years may complete the measure.
PSI Administration and Scoring
The PSI can be administered and scored by individuals without professional training, but interpretation of the measure should involve an individual with graduate-level training in tests and measurement. Most parents complete the questionnaire in about 20 minutes, though no time limit is given. Respondents are asked to read the instructions on the first page of the item booklet and then respond to each item by circling SA (strongly agree), A (agree), NS (not sure), D (disagree), or SD (strongly disagree) on the answer sheet. The respondent’s answers are recorded on the scoring sheet via carbon transfer (if the EZ score form is used). The PSI includes a validity scale (Defensive Responding), which should be calculated first. Individuals with a Defensive Responding score of 24 or less are likely to be underreporting stress, and caution should be exercised when interpreting such test protocols. Subscale scores are calculated by summing each of the responses that correspond with the subscale. The subscale scores and the Life Stress scale score (if used) are then transferred from the score sheet to the profile form. The Child Domain subscale and the Parent Domain factor scores are calculated by summing the appropriate subscales within each domain. To obtain the Total Stress score, users sum the Child Domain score and the Parent Domain score. Percentile scores corresponding to each of the subscale raw scores are provided on the profile page. Percentile scores are derived from the frequency distribution of the normative sample. Subscale scores may be interpreted individually; however, scores are best considered in relation to each other. The Total Stress score can be used to gauge whether professional intervention might be warranted. Total Stress raw scores greater than 260 suggest a need for referral to an appropriate professional for consultation.
Normative data were collected from 2,633 mothers of children ranging from 1 month to 12 years. Normative data were also collected from 200 fathers with children ranging in age from 6 months to 6 years. The PSI’s reading difficulty level is estimated at the fifth grade.
PSI Reliability and Validity
Internal consistency (reliability) has been estimated at .70 to .83 for the subscales comprising the Child Domain and .70 to .84 for the Parent Domain sub-scales. Broad domain and Total Stress reliability coefficients are greater than .90. Test-retest reliability coefficients (ranging from 3 weeks to 1 year after initial administration) were relatively stable across four studies: .55 to .82 for the Child Domain, .69 to .91 for the Parent Domain, and .65 to .96 for Total Stress.
Several studies support the construct and predictive validity of the PSI. The PSI has been used to identify specific stressors for mothers of children with developmental delays, behavioral disorders, and chronic illness. Validation studies have been conducted in Chinese, Italian, Portuguese, Latin American Hispanic, and French Canadian populations. Collectively, these studies suggested that the PSI’s psychometric characteristics are stable and robust across cultural and socioeconomic boundaries.
Parenting Stress Index-Short Form (PSI-SF)
The Parenting Stress Index-Short Form (PSI-SF) was derived from the PSI using factor-analytic procedures at the request of clinicians and researchers who wanted a valid measure of stress in the parent-child system that could be administered in less than 10 minutes. At 36 items, this parent self-report inventory allows rapid screening of parenting stress that derives from parenting a difficult child, problems in the parent-child relationship, and stress that derives from personal factors directly related to parenting. Total Stress and Defensive Responding indicators are also obtained.
Research to date has suggested that the PSI-SF performs similarly to the full-length PSI. The PSI manual reports correlations of .87 to .94 between the major PSI and PSI-SF domains noted above.
- Abidin, R. R. (1992). The determinants of parenting behavior. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 21, 407-H2.
- Abidin, R. R. (1995). Parenting stress index (3rd ed.). Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.
- Reitman, D., Currier, R. O., & Stickle, T. R. (2002). A critical evaluation of the Parenting Stress Index-Short Form (PSI-SF) in a Head Start program. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 31(3), 384-392.