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Development of children’s competencies in household chaos: Does emotionally responsive parenting help?

Fri, March 22, 7:45 to 9:15am, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

Children growing up in chaotic homes, where there is unpredictability and overstimulation, can have difficulty with self-regulation, attention, and aggression (Martin et al., 2012; Bobbit & Gershoff, 2016). Fewer studies have explored the development of social-emotional competencies (i.e., compliance, pretend play skills, empathy; Carter et al., 2003) as they relate to household chaos. Further, aspects of parenting behavior may help to promote children’s development of relationships and competencies, and the specific mechanisms and processes of parenting in chaotic environments still need to be explored (Dumas et al., 2005). Emotionally responsive parenting, in particular, has potential to promote the development of social competencies in home environments with varying levels of chaos (Bronfenbrenner & Evans, 2000).

This longitudinal multi-method study examined the relations among chaos, maternal emotional responsivity, and children’s social-emotional competencies from ages 2-3 years. It was hypothesized that more chaos would be related to fewer social competencies, and that maternal emotional responsivity would moderate this relation, reducing the negative impact of chaos. Analyses included 283 participants in the national multi-method Early Head Start Family and Child Experiences Study (Baby FACES; Vogel & Boller, 2015). The sample included a diverse set of participants (see Table 1). Longitudinal weighting was used for more accurate representation of the overall population. At age 2, mothers completed demographic questionnaires, a questionnaire on home chaos (Matheny et al., 1995), and were observed for emotionally responsive parenting (i.e. expression of warmth, verbal responsiveness) using the HOME (Caldwell & Bradley, 1984). Covariates measured at age 2 included family income to needs ratio, children’s exposure to violence, neighborhood environments, and number of adults and children in the home. At age 3, social competencies were measured using the competencies subscale of the BITSEA (Briggs-Carter et al., 2004).

Analyses indicated that more chaos was generally related to fewer social competencies (β=-.12, p<.001). While the main effect of emotionally responsive parenting was not significantly related to social competencies, parenting did moderate the relation between chaos and competencies (β=.06, p<.01). Specifically, for both average and low levels of emotionally responsive parenting, greater chaos was related to fewer competencies, and at high levels of emotionally responsive parenting, there was no relation between chaos and competency (see Figure 1). Additionally, social competencies were higher when families had a higher income to needs ratio, better neighborhood environments, more children in the home, and surprisingly, when children were exposed to violence.

In sum, the present study found that household chaos is detrimental to children’s development of social competencies, but emotionally responsive parenting can act as a protective moderating factor. Given the importance of children’s social competencies in resilience, these findings have important implications for prevention, intervention, and future research. Future studies should examine how exposure to violence may impact competencies, exploring potential pathways or mechanisms of change. Service providers can help families understand the potential impacts of chaos and its interaction with parenting, and encourage family involvement (e.g., family meals) and reduction of chaos and noise at home.

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