Parent-child coregulation of emotion, goal-directed behavior, and physiology

Three year-old children are at a special time in their development.  They are gaining autonomy and taking on new self-regulation skills.  Their parents are teaching them continually, through direct and indirect means, how to regulate themselves.  We know that parents are extremely important influences on young children and that certain parenting behaviors are more likely to promote children's better self-regulation skills.  But we know much less about how this process occurs moment-to-moment.  In the present study (Dr. Erika Lunkenheimer, PI), we sought to establish a model of how parents and children coregulate their emotions, behaviors, and physiology during interactions such as play, disciplinary tasks, and joint problem-solving.  We examined varying dimensions of parent-child coregulation such as flexibility, rigidity, contingency, synchrony, and repair.  We examined whether these dyadic processes were related to various risk factors in the family and children’s developing self-regulation skills.  

The PCIS was a short-term longitudinal study involving behavioral observations, questionnaires, and physiological data when children were aged 3 ½ (Time 1) and 4 (Time 2).  Mothers and their preschoolers were observed communicating, playing, and solving puzzles together in the laboratory. We studied patterns of interaction between mother and child, measuring emotions, behaviors, and physiological factors such as heart rate, breathing, and skin conductance.  Children also took part in individual tasks to measure self-regulation and behavioral adjustment.  Mothers, fathers/partners, and teachers filled out questionnaires.  The PCIS was funded by the College of Health and Human Sciences at Colorado State University.