Transactional processes of parent-child interactions from early to middle childhood

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Theoretical models support conceptualizing parent-child relationships as reciprocal and transactional with each person exerting influence on the other’s behaviors and the overall quality and valence of the relationship across time.

Theoretical models support conceptualizing parent-child relationships as reciprocal and transactional with each person exerting influence on the other’s behaviors and the overall quality and valence of the relationship across time. The goals of this study were twofold: 1) determine whether there were reciprocal relations in maternal hostility and child negativity across early and middle childhood, and 2) investigate whether individual characteristics (i.e., child temperamental anger and frustration and maternal neuroticism) moderated relations found in goal one. Data were from the Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. Empirical support was found for conceptualizing mother-child interactions as reciprocal. Maternal hostility was related to a decrease in the probability children would exhibit negative behaviors during mother-child interactions measured approximately two years later. Child negativity was also associated with a significant decrease in the probability mothers would display future hostility.

Child temperamental anger and frustration was found to moderate reciprocal relations across all three parent-to-child cross-lagged paths. Children scoring high on a dispositional proclivity to react with anger and frustration were more likely to avoid maternal hostility, via a significant decrease in negativity, across time. Moderation was also supported in two of three child-to-parent lagged paths. Finally, maternal neuroticism moderated the reciprocal effects during early childhood, such that more neurotic mothers were more likely to demonstrate a decrease in the probability of hostility relative to mothers scoring lower on neuroticism. This affect was attenuated in middle childhood, with patterns becoming similar between mothers scoring high and low on neuroticism. Moreover, children of less neurotic mothers were more likely to demonstrate a decrease in the probability of exhibiting negativity from 36 to 54 months compared to children of more neurotic mothers. This effect also attenuated with patterns becoming negative at the grade 1 to grade 3 lag. Overall, the results from this study supported a transactional model of parent-child relationships, were consistent with the motivation literature, did not support a coercive process of interaction when the sample and measurement paradigm were low-risk, and generally suggested parents and children have an equal influence on the relational processes investigated from early to middle childhood.