Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Clinical Psychology

First Advisor

Alice S. Carter

Second Advisor

Lizabeth Roemer

Third Advisor

Abbey Eisenhower


Maternal depression, anxiety, and parenting stress have been linked to a variety of negative outcomes in children (Barker et al, 2011). Furthermore, there is some evidence that boys are particularly susceptible to developing disruptive behavior difficulties and to having these difficulties persist throughout childhood and adolescence (Mesman, Bongers, & Koot, 2001; Tremblay, 2004). While previous research has shown that infants and toddlers exhibit socio-emotional and behavioral problems (Zeanah, 2000) and that these problems often persist well into childhood (Briggs-Gowan et al, 2006), relatively little is known about how maternal distress, parenting behaviors (e.g., laxness and over-reactivity), and early disruptive behavioral problems develop together over time. The purpose of the current study is to model reciprocal relations amongst these three constructs over time and to evaluate the moderating role of child sex upon these relations in infancy and toddlerhood.

Participants included in this report were 606 mother-child dyads (302 girls and 304 boys) who took part in a larger epidemiological study of children's socio-emotional and behavior problems. Mothers answered questionnaires at 3 time points annually. Children were 11 to 28 months old in year 1, 22 to 42 months old in year 2, and 31 to 51 months in year 3. Maternal distress was measured with the Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI; Beck & Steer, 1993), the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D; Radloff, 1977), and the Parental Distress subscale of the Parenting Stress Index (PSI-PD; Abidin 1995). Child externalizing behaviors were assessed with the three subscales (aggression/defiance, peer aggression, and activity/impulsivity) that comprise the Externalizing domain of the Infant-Toddler Social Emotional Assessment (ITSEA; Carter & Briggs-Gowan, 1999; 2006). Parenting behavior was measured using the O'Leary Parenting Scales, which include Over-reactivity and Laxness subscales (Arnold, O'Leary, Wolff, & Acker, 1993) and the Dysfunctional Parent-Child Interaction subscale of the Parenting Stress Index (PSI-PC; Abidin, 1995). The aims of this study were to examine reciprocal relations between maternal distress, parenting style, and child externalizing behavior across infancy and toddlerhood, to determine whether parenting style mediates the relation between maternal distress and children's externalizing behavior, and to evaluate the impact of child sex and sociodemographic risk upon these relations.

A series of cross-lagged panel models were used to evaluate these relations. Results revealed a reciprocal relationship between maternal distress and child externalizing behavior over time. In addition, there was evidence that child sex moderated this relationship such that a uni-directional relationship existed for girls (with externalizing behavior predicting maternal distress and maternal distress not predicting externalizing behavior), and a reciprocal relationship existed for boys. Sociodemographic risk contributed to the model but did not change the reciprocal relationships between maternal distress and externalizing behavior over time. Mediation was not able to be tested due to a high degree of correlation between the parenting and maternal distress constructs.


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