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The Role of Parenting Stress and Parental Self-Regulation in Parent-Child Interactions: A Time-Series Study

Fri, March 22, 10:00 to 11:30am, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 3, Room 341

Integrative Statement

Parenting toddlers can be a daunting task, as toddlerhood is characterized by a peak in noncompliance. Unsurprisingly, parents of toddlers experience relatively high levels of parenting stress (Williford, Calkins, & Keane, 2007). At the same time, early childhood is a time during which parents play an important role in socializing their children. According to self-determination theory, children learn most from their environment when they are provided with opportunities for autonomous behavior (Deci & Ryan, 1985). Parents foster these autonomous behaviors by giving structure and support, and by demonstrating involvement (Grolnick, Deci, & Ryan, 1997). However, when children show noncompliance, parents may become more negative and directive (Gauvain & Perez, 2008). This may be particularly true for poorly regulated parents (Deater-Deckard, Li, & Bell, 2015).

The current study examines the role of parental stress and self-regulation in dyadic, real-time parent-toddler interactions. We focus on parental stress related to perceived low parenting efficacy, as feelings of low self-efficacy are an important source of parenting stress (Crnic & Ross, 2017). Participants were 62 parent-toddler dyads (age toddlers: M=28.50 months, SD=1.20), who were filmed during clean-up. Parent and toddler behaviors (see table 1) were coded on a continuous time-scale (Lunkenheimer, 2009). Parents completed four tasks (tower of London, backward digit span, Wisconsin card sorting, and Stroop) assessing self-regulation. Lastly, the competence scale of the parenting stress index was administered (M =1.94, SD =0.76, Abidin, 1990).

Our first goal was to examine how parent and toddler behaviors co-occurred. We used Hidden Markov Modelling (HMM) to identify a set of hidden states defined by the likelihood of particular behaviors of toddlers and parents to occur. Results indicated that dyadic processes between parents and toddlers could be summarized by five states (see table 1). Two states were primarily defined by toddlers' compliance, two states by non-compliance, and one state was characterized by off-task behavior. For both compliance and non-compliance states, one state was characterized by parental behaviors that foster autonomous behavior (i.e., mainly support & structure, and involvement) whereas the other state was mainly characterized by parental directives. These results indicate that HMM can produce logical and conceptually distinct states that describe parent-toddler interactions as they occur in real time.

Our second goal is to examine whether the combination of parental stress and self-regulation predicts the time spent in dyadic states. Preliminary results indicated that dyads with relatively stressed parents (defined by stress higher than the median) seem to spend less time in a state characterized by compliance and autonomy fostering behaviors, compared to dyads with less stressed parents (see Table 1, State 3). However, the confidence intervals of these estimates overlap, which may be because parental self-regulation explains unaccounted variation in parent-toddler interactions. Using a multi-level extension of HMM, we will further examine how parental stress and self-regulation interact in predicting parent-toddler interactions.
The results of this study may help to identify moments within parent-toddler interactions that are particularly important to observe and potentially support when considering parents with high levels of stress and low self-regulation.