What Is the Parenting Stress Index?

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The Parenting Stress Index (PSI) is an assessment tool used to measure the stress between a parent and child.

The PSI takes about 30 minutes to complete and is rather involved. It consists of 120 questions in a booklet and can be completed online or by hand.

In assessing the parent, there are categories that focus on competence, isolation, health, depression, marriage status, and healthy attachment. There is a range of characteristics for children, including distractibility, demandingness, and mood.

Uses of the Parenting Stress Index

Parents of children up to 12 years old can use this tool. While this assessment tool is used to intervene and provide support in parent-child relationships where there is a risk for abuse and neglect, it raises important questions about how a parent is responding to their child.

The PSI begins with questions that invite the parent to rate the child’s behavior. Halfway through the assessment, the questions will shift to ask parents to rate themselves.

It is often used in child custody cases and by child welfare professionals. Aside from being used in child custody cases, the PSI can be used in medical and school settings. 

Considerations for Using the Parenting Stress Index

While the PSI is used in clinical settings, it has received criticism for use outside of clinical settings.

Critics say the PSI is too long, which is understandable considering it contains 120 questions. Critics also say the PSI can be seen as highly invasive.

The Parental Stress Scale (PSS) was created in response to these concerns. It is just 18 questions long and focuses on how parents view their roles in their children’s lives. This is seen as a unique trait since the PSI focuses heavily on stress and tension points amongst both the children and parents. The PSS also focuses on pleasure and the stress associated with childhood. 

Due to the nature of the PSI, it is best administered with the support of a professional. However, if you’re curious to learn more about how stress impacts your experience as a parent, then the PSS may be for you.

Ways to Decrease Parenting Stress

Stress, even when the child is a baby, can impact the parental relationship, leading to further turmoil for both later. If you are a new parent, it is critical to consider ways to get support as soon as possible:

  • Look into a support group or individual therapy. If you’re concerned about the cost of therapy, you can ask a provider if they offer a sliding scale, or you can explore low-fee sessions through the mental health platform Open Path Collective
  • Look into your state-funded social service offerings. Support doesn’t only come in the form of peer support and mental health care. Some states, like California, offer subsidized child care which can be helpful if you're tired and/or overworked.
  • See what resources are available at your child's school. Perhaps you’re stressed about the behavior your child is exhibiting. Consider reaching out to their school to see if they have a staff therapist that could support them. In addition, it may be worth chatting with their teachers to see if there are any coping skills your child may be learning at school that could be reinforced at home.
  • Have compassion for yourself and your child. You are likely doing your best with the tools you have, and the same goes for your child.

A Word From Verywell

Even amid stress, know you are not alone. Many say it takes a village to raise a family, so reach out for support. You can call 988 to be connected to mental health services in this area or can learn more about how to find a therapist here. Thanks to teletherapy, you don’t have to worry about finding childcare and can hold sessions from the comfort of your home. 

If you are concerned about someone in your life and the safety of their children, do not attempt to administer the PSI scale yourself. Instead, reach out to a professional for support and call 911 if you’re in an emergency.

If you are a victim of child abuse or know someone who might be, call or text the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453 to speak with a professional crisis counselor.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. The California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse. Parenting Stress Index (PSI).

  2. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Parenting Stress Index, Full-Length Version.

  3. Nærde A, Hukkelberg SS. An examination of validity and reliability of the Parental Stress Scale in a population based sample of Norwegian parents. PLOS ONE. 2020;15(12):e0242735. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0242735

By Julia Childs Heyl
Julia Childs Heyl, MSW, is a clinical social worker and writer. As a writer, she focuses on mental health disparities and uses critical race theory as her preferred theoretical framework. In her clinical work, she specializes in treating people of color experiencing anxiety, depression, and trauma through depth therapy and EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) trauma therapy.