Child Maltreatment, Parenting Processes, and Emotion Regulation

Funding period: September 11, 2007–June 30, 2013
Current funding period: March 15, 2008–June 1, 2013
Principal Investigator, Child and Family Center: Dr. Elizabeth Skowron
Project Coordinator: Angie Morrison
Funded by: National Institute on Mental Health, National Institutes of Health and the Children’s Bureau of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families as part of the Federal Child Neglect Research Consortium

What are the mechanisms underlying early childhood deficits in self-regulation in child-maltreating families? Researchers are modeling patterns of interactive synchrony, rupture, and repair that unfold over time in the sequential interactions of maltreating and nonmaltreating mothers and their preschool children.

This research is examining the role of relationship ruptures and repairs in young children’s developing capacities for self-regulation and emotion regulation and their skills at engaging parent assistance in self-regulation. The team is also documenting variations in the psychophysiology of parenting at risk. This project addresses several current gaps in the child maltreatment literature, including examining patterns of parent-child interactive patterns associated with severity and subtype of maltreatment, focusing on neurophysiological and behavioral assessment of emotion regulation in mothers and their preschool children, and tracking the bidirectional influence of mother and child on patterns of interactive rupture and repair. This research team comprises clinical, counseling, and developmental researchers whose expertise includes studying parenting at risk. The goal is to translate these basic research findings into the development of testable child maltreatment interventions that target specific patterns of interactive disruption identified in maltreating families.


2012: Data collection involved two 2-hour home interviews with mother and child, followed by a 2.5-hour laboratory session in which time-synchronized video recording and cardiovascular monitoring occurred during a series of joint and individual experimental challenge tasks. In spite of the time and logistical demands of data collection with these high-risk, rural, and generally difficult-to-engage families, study completion rates for the three-visit protocol remained high. Data cleaning, coding, and management continued. Publications in this time period focused on elucidating the moment-to-moment parenting processes that distinguish abusive, neglecting, and nonmaltreating mother–child dyads and clarifying associations between parenting, children’s autonomic physiology, and behavioral indices of self-regulation. Data indicate that maltreatment exposure/subtype and quality of maternal response to children’s autonomous behavior each are independently associated with children’s parasympathetic tone.