Reciprocal Associations between Maternal Behaviors and Children’s Self-Regulation during the Transition from Early to Middle Childhood

Publication Year


Journal Article

Developmental systems theories highlight the importance of understanding the bidirectional associations between parenting behaviors and children’s development. The current study examined the longitudinal and reciprocal links between two key parenting processes (i.e., maternal warmth and maternal harshness) and children’s self-regulation across early and middle childhood. Data were drawn from the Future of Families and Child Wellbeing Study when the children were ages 3, 5, and 9. Participants included 3,821 mother-child dyads from socioeconomic and racially/ethnically diverse backgrounds (50.45% African American, 26.21% Hispanic American, 20.09% White, and 3.25% other race/ethnicity). Latent Cross-Lagged Panel Models using the weighted least squares means and variance adjusted estimator were conducted across three waves. Results demonstrated significant bidirectional associations in middle childhood, such that maternal warmth at age 5 predicted children’s self-regulation at age 9, and children’s self-regulation at age 5 predicted maternal warmth at age 9. Child-driven effects were detected in early childhood, such that children’s lower levels of self-regulation at age 3 were associated with lower levels of maternal warmth and higher levels of maternal harsh parenting at age 5. The child-driven effect was also found in middle childhood for maternal harsh parenting. Findings support the transactional framework, suggesting a reciprocal association between parenting and child behaviors between early and middle childhood. Implications for holistic parental educational intervention programs are discussed.

Journal of Child and Family Studies