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Research Overview

Research Overview

Here in the Parent-Child Dynamics (PCD) Laboratory, we study patterns of day-to-day interaction between parents and children and how these patterns act as risk or protective factors for child outcomes.  A central focus is on regulatory processes.  The early development of self-regulation is essential to multiple aspects of positive child development (social competence, emotion regulation, academic success) and difficulties with self-regulation underlie problematic behaviors, such as externalizing and internalizing behavior problems.  The parent-child relationship is the main context for the development of these self-regulation skills in early childhood.  Parents model self-regulation skills when disciplining children, and children practice how to self-regulate when responding to parental guidance.  Parents and children also “coregulate” one another as they influence one another’s emotions, behaviors, and physiology.  Thus, understanding how parent-child interactions support or hinder children’s self-regulation has implications for the etiology of regulatory development and for family interventions, given that most treatment approaches involve attempts to change and improve parent-child interaction patterns.

Our work is interdisciplinary: theoretical and methodological frameworks include developmental psychology, clinical psychology, prevention science, and dynamic systems theory.  Thematically, our work is organized around two core questions.  First, how do dynamic parent-child interaction patterns act as risk or protective processes in the pathway from familial risk factors to children’s problem outcomes?  Second, how can we use a better understanding of these dynamic patterns to inform prevention and intervention efforts with families to make these efforts more effective?

Research in the PCD Lab has been supported by funding from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), Pennsylvania State University, and Colorado State University.  Topics explored in recent studies include:

  • How harsh parenting influences the dynamic coupling of positive behaviors between parent and child
  • The repair of ruptures in parent-preschooler problem-solving interactions and its prediction of children’s regulatory skills in the school setting
  • Tools for the assessment of parent-child dyadic coregulation of emotion, behavior, and physiology in early childhood
  • How parents and children coordinate parasympathetic physiological processes in real time, and how this coordination differs by parenting practices and parent and child mental health symptoms
  • Differences between physically abusing, emotionally abusing, and neglectful families in parents and children’s coordination of parasympathetic physiology