Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

Mother-Child and Father-Child Dyadic Interaction: Parental and Child Bids and Responsiveness to Each Other during Early Childhood

Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

Mother-Child and Father-Child Dyadic Interaction: Parental and Child Bids and Responsiveness to Each Other during Early Childhood

Article excerpt

In accord with the now prevailing ecological view that both parent and child play an active role in shaping their interactions, the present study assessed the number of bids by parents and children for social engagement, compliance, and emotion regulation, and the quality of each partner's responsiveness to these bids, in a sample of mothers and fathers of 3-, 4-, and 5/6-year-old children (Ν = 145). Consistent with developmental changes in early childhood, parents made fewer attempts to influence or regulate older children's mood, older children made more influence but fewer negative bids, and both parents and children used social bids most frequently. There were consistencies within a particular family system, but also distinctions -mothers made more social and mood-regulating bids, whereas fathers made more influence attempts. Results speak to the importance of considering both parental and child behaviors during multiple developmental periods in investigations of the evolving parent-child relationship.

The parent-child relationship has long been seen as a critical source of influence on child health and adjustment across multiple developmental domains. A strong tradition of empirical research has demonstrated that the quality of this relationship has short- and long-term implications for children's social and academic functioning, as well as for mental and physical health (Belsky, 1999; Luecken & Lemery, 2004; Moss & St-Laurent, 2001; Wakschlag & Hans, 1999). In particular, parental sensitivity and responsiveness to the child has emerged as a key dimension of adaptive parenting. Parental sensitivity includes the parent's awareness of and attunement with the child and his or her activities, needs, and desires; appropriate responsiveness involves acceptance of the child, willing and engaged interaction, and encouragement of the child's emerging sense of autonomy and self. Socialization models posit that high-quality parental responsiveness fosters the child's sense of belonging and willingness to please the parent while encouraging the internalization of parental rules, resulting in increasingly self-regulated behavior (Bugental & Grusec, 2006). Parental responsiveness during infancy and toddlerhood is associated with important child outcomes, including social competence and cognitive development (Bornstein, 1989; Landry, Smith, Swank, 2006; Tamis-LeMonda, Bornstein, & Baumwell, 2001), conscience and moral development (Kochanska, Aksan, Knaack, & Rhines, 2004), and risk for behavioral problems (Wakschlag & Hans, 1999).

Developmental Changes in Parent-Child Interaction

The appropriateness of any parental response is intrinsically contingent upon the child's needs or desires in a given moment, as well as on the parent's short- and long-term goals for the child's behavior. The ecological framework for understanding child development and the parent-child relationship that now prevails in the literature on developmental and family systems emphasizes the contributions of both partners-parent and child are seen as independently influencing, and being influenced by, their partner (Collins, Maccoby, Steinberg, Hetherington, & Bornstein, 2000; Kenny, Kashy, & Cook, 2006). Thus, research on the developing parentchild relationship has increasingly considered both parents' and children's contribution to their interactions and has sought to quantify each partner's response to the other, as well as the specific actions of the partner that elicited a response.

Broad indicators of the overall quality of the parent-child relationship, including responsiveness, evidence moderate stability from infancy to early childhood (Donovan, Leavitt, Taylor, & Broder, 2007; Feldman, Greenbaum, Mayes, & Erlich, 1997), even as there are substantial changes in more specific aspects of parent-child interaction (de Weerth & van Geert, 2002; Kochanska & Aksan, 2004). An infant babbles, a toddler strings words together, and a preschooler begins to make actual conversation, but a highly responsive parent consistently acknowledges the child's attempts at engagement, responds in kind, and elicits continued interaction. …

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