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Maternal Harshness and the Mother-Child Relationship in the Toddler Years: Associations with Behavior Problems at School Entry

Holt, Elizabeth Clare (2007) Maternal Harshness and the Mother-Child Relationship in the Toddler Years: Associations with Behavior Problems at School Entry. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Both harsh parenting and insecure attachment have been identified as potential risks for behavior problems in young children. Previous research, however, has typically investigated these factors separately and has tended to focus on the development of externalizing rather than internalizing problems. This study examined relations between observed maternal harshness and attachment insecurity in the toddler/preschool years, as well as associations among these same early parenting and relationship variables and their interaction with child negative affect, and child behavior problems in early grade school (Grade 1/Grade 2) and investigated whether associations differed for girls and boys. Participants consisted of a subset (N = 111) of families from the Pittsburgh site of the on-going, multi-site study of child development, the NICHD Study of Early Child Care. Mothers and their children participated in two laboratory interactions when children were 2 and 3 years, a shared snack and a semistructured play task, and observed maternal harshness and child negative affect were coded from these videotaped interactions. At 3 years, a modified Strange Situation was used to assess the degree to which the child's attachment relationship was observed to be insecure or secure, rated qualitatively on a 9-point scale. Teachers completed questionnaires when the children were in first/second grade to assess internalizing and externalizing symptoms. Results showed that early maternal harshness predicted child internalizing symptoms 5 years later even after controlling for demographic risk and child negative affect. Early maternal harshness also predicted teacher-rated externalizing problems but only in conjunction with child negative affect: higher levels of child negative affect were only associated with increased risk for externalizing problems when paired with increased maternal harshness. Furthermore, mother-child attachment security moderated the association between harshness and internalizing in a manner suggesting that attachment security was not protective in the context of early maternal harshness. Results examining associations as a function of child sex revealed a complex pattern of interactions, giving some indication that boys may be differentially susceptible to the rearing environment and suggesting the need to consider the interplay between parenting, attachment and behavior problems separately for boys and girls.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Holt, Elizabeth Clareclareh@pitt.eduCLAREH
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairCampbell, Susan Bsbcamp@pitt.eduSBCAMP
Committee MemberBrownell, Celiabrownell@pitt.eduBROWNELL
Committee MemberShaw, Daniel Smomchild@pitt.eduMOMCHILD
Committee MemberVondra, Joanvondra@pitt.eduVONDRA
Committee MemberJennings, Kay
Date: 19 September 2007
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 12 July 2007
Approval Date: 19 September 2007
Submission Date: 8 August 2007
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Psychology
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: developmental psychopathology; maternal negativity; mother-child interaction; transactional
Other ID:, etd-08082007-121455
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 19:58
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:48


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