The chance to catch up: Positive parenting and developmental trajectories of behavioral adjustment and physiological regulation among children at risk for externalizing problems

Restricted (Penn State Only)
Zhang, Xutong
Graduate Program:
Human Development and Family Studies
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
February 28, 2018
Committee Members:
  • Lisa Michelle Kopp, Thesis Advisor
  • Gregory M Fosco, Committee Member
  • positive parenting
  • self-regulation
  • externalizing symptoms
  • physiological regulation
Abilities to effectively modulate physiological arousal in response to environmental challenges are important components of self-regulation capability, which may further direct the development of children’s behavioral adjustment. Particularly, acquiring such abilities is critical for children who demonstrate early difficulties in regulation aggressive/oppositional behaviors to outgrow their symptoms and achieve better developmental outcomes. In early and middle-childhood, parent-child interaction is one of the primary contexts that shape the development of self-regulation. However, while substantial research has demonstrated the association between parenting and child behavioral adjustment, little empirical evidence is available on whether and how parents can support the development of physiological regulation. To address this gap, the current study investigates the relations between positive parenting and the developmental trajectories of behavioral adjustment and physiological regulation across early school years among children at risk for externalizing psychopathology. The sample consists of 207 children (Mage = 5.62 years old at school entry, SDage = 0.37) who were rated by their teachers as showing high levels of aggressive/oppositional behaviors at school entry. Positive parenting behaviors were observationally coded from structured parent-child interactions during home visits in the kindergarten year. Teachers reported on children’s emotion regulation and externalizing symptoms in annual assessments from kindergarten to 2nd Grade. Children’s respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) and skin conductance level (SCL) responses to frustration were also measured each year. Results showed that positive parenting was associated with decreases in externalizing symptoms from kindergarten to 2nd Grade. Positive parenting was also related to developmental changes in RSA reactivity to frustration as well as SCL recovery after the frustrating stimuli was removed, although there was discrepancy between concurrent and longitudinal associations. Findings suggest that warm, sensitive and supportive parenting behaviors may support the development of children’s physiological regulation and improvements in behavioral adjustment among children with early-onset externalizing symptoms.