A barrier to the successful prevention of negative consequences of inhibited temperament is understanding how and the conditions under which parenting behavior plays a role in its stability and prediction of maladaptive outcomes. Although it has been acknowledged that children play a role in the parenting they receive, few empirical studies have examined parenting as predicted by inhibited temperament, and little is known about factors that change the likelihood that this will occur. This project will contribute to the scientific knowledge base of parenting and toddler inhibited temperament as well as inform future efforts towards prevention of maladaptive outcomes for inhibited children. A longitudinal, multimethod design will be used to test three specific aims related to the roles of maternal overcontrol and maternal emotion processes in a child- directed model of stability in inhibited temperament.
Aim 1 is to identify individual differences in psychobiological indices of maternal emotion processes (emotion reactivity and emotion regulation) that determine when inhibited temperament predicts overcontrolling maternal behavior. Prior to the grant period, toddlers will be assessed observationally and via mother- and father-report for inhibited temperament. Under this application, when toddlers are 24-month-old, they will be assessed for inhibited temperament, and mothers will be assessed for overcontrolling parenting and emotional reactions to interactions with novelty in observational tasks and by using subjective measures, stress hormones, cardiac activity, and EEG. When toddlers are approximately 36-months-old, mothers and toddlers will be invited back to the laboratory, where toddlers will again undergo observation of inhibited temperament. Maternal emotion processes will be tested as moderating both the relation between early inhibited temperament and later maternal overcontrol and the mediation in stability of inhibited temperament by maternal overcontrol.
Aim 2 is to determine the extent of overlap between these emotion processes and maternal anxiety. At the 24-month time point, mothers will complete surveys related to their typical levels of anxiety, and these wil be tested for their concurrent relations to emotion processes.
Aim 3 is to examine whether dysfunctional maternal emotion process relate to ambivalence about reducing overcontrolling behaviors. At the 24-month visit, mothers will report on this ambivalence, and it will be tested as a correlate of emotion processes. Understanding the correlates and consequences of maternal emotion processes in the context of parenting will point towards new, innovative targets for the prevention of maladaptive outcomes associated with early inhibited temperament, aligning with the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development's mission to ensure that all children reach their fullest potential and be free from mental health problems.
Inhibited temperament in toddlerhood can lead to social withdrawal and anxiety symptoms and disorders, which predict peer difficulties, depression, early termination of education, underachievement, lower work productivity, conduct disorder, substance use, and even suicide. Inhibition-related problems are among the most common forms of childhood maladjustment, affecting upwards of 20 percent of children and causing distress and impairment for both children and their families. Successful prevention of these outcomes requires a comprehensive understanding of the mechanisms and conditions under which these outcomes occur. Thus, the planned work under this application tests a developmental model of inhibited temperament, focusing on maternal parenting behaviors and emotion processes as determining early stability in inhibited temperament. Results will inform how parents may be most successfully integrated in prevention efforts.