Parental stress, parenting behavior and observed parent-child interaction

Katrina L Adams, Pace University


This study investigated the relationship between parental stress, social support, and directly observed parenting behavior and dyadic interaction in a non-clinical sample of 26 parent-child dyads, in which the child was age five or younger. This study also explored the differential impact of various types of stress on parenting behavior and dyadic interaction, including life stress as measured by the Social Readjustment Rating Scale - Revised (SRRS-R), parenting stress as measured by the Parenting Stress Index - Short Form (PSI-SF), and event stress as measured by the Impact of Event Scale - Revised (IES-R). Parenting behavior and dyadic interaction were assessed with selected variables from the Early Relational Assessment (ERA). Exploratory research questions addressed age and developmental trends, the relationship between parental stress and Parent Role Questionnaire (PRQ) ratings, and contextual differences in observed behavior. The findings of this research indicate that various types of stress differentially impact parent, child and dyadic behavior. Specifically, life stress was associated with decreased parental enjoyment, child positive affect, and mutual enjoyment/enthusiasm in both free and structured play. Contrary to expectations, higher event stress was related to more optimal parenting in this "low risk" sample, including increased mirroring, sensitivity/responsivity, flexibility and appropriate structuring of the interaction, as well as improved dyadic reciprocity and organization in free play, perhaps due to activation of an underlying parental reflective-self functioning variable. Parenting stress was not found to be a strong predictor of parent, child or dyadic behavior. Further, higher social support was related to decreased life stress and better parenting behavior (i.e., enjoyment, positive affect, intrusiveness). The results of this study also suggest that even minimally structured play situations influence a dyad's interactive style. In this study, the PRQ was not significantly related to stress levels or parenting due to the extremely restricted range of ratings. Finally, this study found some evidence of gender and developmental trends in structured play. Clinical implications for work with parents-child dyads and families, limitations of this study, and directions for future research were also discussed.

Subject Area

Psychotherapy|Social psychology|Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Adams, Katrina L, "Parental stress, parenting behavior and observed parent-child interaction" (2006). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI3198504.



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