Congratulations to Dr. Ourania Antokas for completing her DPsych in Psychology in early 2017.

Dr. Antokas’s thesis was titled Toddlers’ Behaviour Regulation During a Separation Task: How Does It Relate to Parenting, Temperament, and Externalising and Internalising Problems?

 

CHAPTER 1

Introduction

In the past fifteen years, there has been a surge in research related to children’s regulatory capacities (Cole & Deater-Deckard, 2009; Eisenberg, Spinrad, & Eggum, 2010). Regulation, often defined to include emotion regulation and cognitive control, has been hailed as the “cornerstone of early childhood development that cuts across all domains of behavior” (Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000, p. 3). Regulatory processes have been recognised as early precursors and consistent correlates (or symptoms) of many mental health problems and social skills deficits (Carthy, Horesh, Apter, & Gross, 2010; Eisenberg, Spinrad, & Sadovsky, 2006; Kim & Cicchetti, 2010; Shipman & Zeman, 2001; Zeman, Shipman, & Suveg, 2002). In particular, deficits in regulatory behavior have been found to play a significant role in childhood problem behaviours (internalising and externalising symptoms), beginning as early as the toddler years (Eiden, Edwards, & Kenneth, 2007; Eisenberg and Zhou, 2000; Hill, Degnan, Calkins, & Keane, 2006).

Despite this proliferation of research on regulation and the emerging new theories and measures that have been developed for use with very young children (e.g., Derryberry & Rothbart, 1997; Eisenberg & Fabes, 1992; Spinrad, Eisenberg, & Gaertner, 2007), there are at least two major gaps in developmental and child clinical research addressing the early correlates of adaptive and maladaptive forms of regulation, and how regulatory problems may be associated with the onset of psychological disorders early in life. The first gap relates to the roles of parenting, temperament and regulation. There is theory to suggest that parenting practices, children’s own temperament and regulation are each important to the development of psychopathology (Zimmer-Gembeck & Skinner, 2016), but additional work addressing their associations with each other, and their individual contributions to different forms of psychopathology early in the life span, is still needed. Second, there is a gap in the types of participants in studies of early regulation. In particular, there has been limited research focused on multi-problem families who have children showing the earliest signs of significant behavioural and emotional disorders. It is often at these extremes that the association between regulation and temperamental vulnerabilities become clearest (Kobak, Cassidy, Lyons-Ruth, & Ziv, 2006).

The series of two studies presented here addressed each of these gaps in research by examining how parenting practices and parent-child attachment, as well as children’s temperamental traits, are associated with children’s regulation and problem behaviours. Although indices of behavioural regulation are diverse within the literature, nineteen behavioural regulation strategies were examined in the two studies presented here. These strategies, which tap into four key types of regulatory efforts made by toddlers (i.e., strategies that utilise mother, strategies that rely on some stimulus or object, disengagement of attention, and redirection of action), were first described by Diener and Mangelsdorf (1999b) and recently used in research by Roque et al. (2013).

In Study One, parenting practices, attachment, maternal sensitivity and parenting beliefs (parenting self-efficacy, parental perception of the child as positive) were examined in relation to regulation in a sample of multi-problem families. In Study Two, the focus was on how parenting practices and children’s temperament, in addition to parents’ beliefs and stress, predict regulation and externalising and internalising symptoms in a community sample of young children. In these studies, toddlers were observed in a laboratory setting in order to assess their regulation and to measure attachment and maternal sensitivity, and parent-reports were gathered to measure children’s temperament, including negative affectivity, effortful control and surgency, as well as parenting including parenting practices, parenting self-efficacy, parent stress, and parents’ perceptions of their children.

In the next chapters (Chapters 2-7), background for both studies are provided. Following this, Study One is presented in Chapter 8 and Study Two is presented in Chapter 9. At the end of this thesis, Chapter 10 provides a general discussion and consolidation of the findings of both studies, and summarises study limitations and future directions for research and clinical practice.


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