Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 27, Issue 8, pp 2481–2490 | Cite as

What Matters Most to the Left-Behind Children’s Life Satisfaction and School Engagement: Parent or Grandparent?

  • Jingjing Song
  • Chensen Ma
  • Chuanhua Gu
  • Bin ZuoEmail author
Original Paper


This study compared the role of the parent and grandparent in the adjustment of children who had, and who had not, been left behind when their parents moved to urban areas for work, and tested whether self-esteem mediated the association between these family relationships and child adjustment. The sample included 428 middle school students in central China, 204 of whom were left-behind children who were cared for by grandparents and 224 of whom were not left behind. The students responded to five questionnaires measuring parent–child relationships, grandparent–child relationships, self-esteem, life satisfaction and school engagement. Regression analyses showed that self-esteem mediated the association between parent–child and grandparent–child relationships and children’s adjustment, but there were different patterns of association for the non-left-behind children and left-behind children groups. Furthermore, the unique effect of parent–child relationships was higher than that of grandparent–child relationships for the non-left-behind children, but for the left-behind children, grandparent–child relationships played a more important role than grandparent–child relationships in predicting their school engagement, and parent–child relationships played a more important role in predicting their life satisfaction. Parents who are far away and grandparents who are close at hand can shape different psychological and behavioral development outcomes of left-behind children.


Left-behind children Grandparent–child relationship Life satisfaction School engagement 



The authors sincerely thank the reviewers and editor for many productive suggestions during the interactive review. This research was supported by grants from a general program grant 31571147 from National Natural Science Foundation of China, grants from Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities from China University of Geosciences (Wuhan). All data in the current study are available at figshare:

Authors Contributions

S.J.J.: Designed and executed the study, analyzed the data and wrote the paper. M.C.S.: Collaborated in writing and editing the final manuscript. G.C.H. and Z.B.: Collaborated in designing the study and writing the paper.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethics Statement

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the Ethics Committee of Central China Normal University, the American Psychological Association (APA) standards, and the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all study participants.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jingjing Song
    • 1
  • Chensen Ma
    • 2
  • Chuanhua Gu
    • 3
  • Bin Zuo
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.Institute of Applied PsychologyChina University of GeosciencesWuhanChina
  2. 2.Department of surgery,Tongji Medical CollegeHuazhong University of Science and TechnologyWuhanChina
  3. 3.School of PsychologyCentral China Normal UniversityWuhanChina

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