Exploring the Impact of Problematic Parenting Behaviour on Child Vagal Regulation
This research explored how problematic parenting behaviours exhibited by mothers may impact their children’s physiological vagal regulation abilities (i.e., withdrawal of vagal activity from baseline tone during stressful situations). Research has established robust associations between parenting behaviours and various child outcomes but produces mixed findings regarding relationships between parenting and child vagal regulation. Two unique samples of mother-child dyads (i.e., infants and preschoolers) participated in age-appropriate lab paradigms. Recordings of mother-child interactions were scored for problematic parenting behaviours by trained and reliable coders. Vagal activity (i.e., heart rate variability) was gathered from children at rest and during an emotional stressor task in the lab. Results revealed a significant relationship between more problematic parenting behaviours and poorer vagal regulation in the preschool but not the infant sample. Exploratory analyses highlight unique impacts of different types of problematic parenting behaviours on a child’s vagal regulation system, including significant relationships occurring in opposing directions. Based on these results, practical implications for intervention with children under five and their caregivers are discussed.