The attainment of adequate self-regulation represents a critical developmental milestone that has significant implications for children's social-emotional wellbeing. Prior work has noted the importance of parenting for children's early developing self-regulatory skills, particularly at times in life, such as infancy and early toddlerhood, when children rely heavily on parental support in the regulation of emotion and behavior. Although preliminary evidence suggests that parental self-regulation is important for parenting, most studies have not focused on parenting in early childhood and have not linked parental self-regulation to children's self-regulation through parenting.
The aim of the current proposal is to evaluate the effects of multiple aspects of maternal self-regulation (e.g., emotion regulation, effortful control, executive functions, and physiological regulation [heart rate variability]) on parenting of infants and on the emergence of infant self-regulation directly and through parenting. Using a diverse sample (n = 200) of typically developing infants and maternal caregivers recruited from one urban and one rural site, the current proposal evaluates parenting under two conditions. First, the implications of maternal self-regulation for parenting infants in the context of high infant distress is examined using a novel parenting simulation task wherein maternal caregivers interact with a highly distressed, life-like infant simulator. Next, the mother's interactions with her own infant will be evaluated in the context of free play and after a mild infant stressor. Finally, infant self-regulation of emotion during a frustrating task will be examined. It is anticipated that maternal caregivers who have better self-regulation will engage in more adaptive, sensitive parenting behavior during the simulation task as well as with their own infant during play and after a mild stressor. Furthermore, it is expected that parenting will mediate the effects of maternal self-regulation on infant self-regulation. The current study has implications for early developing self-regulatory skills, developmental psychopathology, models of parenting, as well as for parent-infant intervention programs.
The work described in the current study has substantial implications for mechanisms, such as parenting and parent self-regulation, which can support children at later risk for behavioral and emotional problems as well as for academic failure, through early developing self-regulation. As such, the current study has implications for early developing self-regulatory skills, developmental psychopathology, models of parenting, as well as for parent-infant intervention programs.
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