The evocative effect of children's physiologocial stress reactivity on intrusive parenting

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


Self-regulatory processes, such as effortful control, are important facets of development for children's long term adjustment. Effortful control is known to be influenced by biological processes that enable regulatory function. Specifically, better biological regulation is associated with better effortful control. The direction of environmental effects, however, is less clear. Although theoretical perspectives support the possibility that parent-child influences are bidirectional, studies of self-regulation -- both physiological regulation and effortful control -- have almost exclusively focused on a parent-to-child direction of effects. Almost no research has investigated the influence of children's physiological and behavioral regulation on parenting behaviors. My thesis explored one process by which physiological regulation, indexed through measures of neuroendocrine reactivity, and behavioral regulation, indexed as effortful control, may evoke intrusive behaviors in parents. I hypothesized that greater cortisol reactivity would predict lower levels of effortful control, which would subsequently predict greater intrusive parenting. I tested my hypothesis in a sample of preschool-aged children and their parents, capitalizing on a critical period for the development of self-regulation. Results indicate that cortisol reactivity did not work through effortful control to predict parent intrusiveness. However, effortful control did moderate the association between child cortisol reactivity and parent intrusiveness. Specifically, when children were high in effortful control, greater cortisol reactivity predicted greater intrusive parenting. This work sheds light the importance of considering bidirectional effects in the development of self-regulation in early childhood.




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