Parents also increasingly struggle to say 'no' to their children and try to act as their equal rather than their boss.

Dublin - Being too strict with children can result in serious social and emotional problems - but so can being too lenient.

One-in-five Irish children has a significant emotional or behavioural problem, a major new study has found.

But the child's own temperament and relationship with their parents is more influential than issues such as poverty or whether they are from a one-parent or traditional family.

The 'Growing Up in Ireland' study reveals boys had more difficulties than girls overall.

Boys are also more likely to have behavioural problems such as fighting with others, or being hyperactive. This kind of acting out means boys' difficulties are more likely to be picked up on.

In contrast, girls tend to internalise their issues, and are more likely to have emotional problems, like feeling anxious or sad.

The study found the factors most likely to lead to problems were:

* Being a boy.

* Having a learning or developmental disorder.

* High levels of mother-child conflict.

* Coming from a very low-income household.

* Coming from a single-parent household.

Overall, 15 to 20 percent of children in Ireland have emotional or behavioural problems, broadly in line with other international studies. The Irish report is based on detailed interviews with 8,500 nine-year-olds, and with their parents and teachers.

Children whose parents are very authoritarian - which means they are very strict but offer little emotional support - are more likely to be troubled.

But children whose parents are neglectful and don't impose many rules - or do not offer support - also fared badly.

Children were found to do better if their parents were warm and responsive but had certain ground rules - an 'authoritative' parenting style.

The study found that closeness to their mother was particularly important for girls' well-being.

However, surprisingly, the level of closeness with fathers did not influence social or emotional problems.

Early social, emotional and behavioural problems were often linked with problems in later life, said Elizabeth Nixon, a lecturer in Trinity College Dublin.

But a key message was that whatever the family circumstances, children could be buffered from negative influences if a positive parent-child relationship was maintained, she said. -

Irish Independent