Unpacking Relations between Children’s Sustained Focused Attention and Maternal Structuring of Attention Focus: Contributions to Children’s use of Distraction

Open Access
Daniels, Lisa
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 12, 2015
Committee Members:
  • Pamela Marie Cole, Dissertation Advisor
  • Ginger A Moore, Committee Member
  • Cynthia Stifter, Committee Member
  • Douglas Michael Teti, Committee Member
  • Attention
  • Parenting
  • Emotion Regulation
Regulating negative emotion is a central task of early childhood (Eisenberg & Fabes, 1992; Kopp, 1989) and contributes to positive and negative outcomes among children, such as social competence and the development of psychopathology (Denham et al., 2003; Halligan et al., 2013; Silk, Steinberg, & Morris, 2003). Emotion regulation strategies that rely on attention control have been found to be effective at reducing young children's negative emotions (Ekas, Braungart-Rieker, Lickenbrock, Zentall, & Maxwell, 2011; Gilliom, Shaw, Beck, Schonberg, & Lukon, 2002). While it is understood that parents play an important role in the development of emotion regulation (see Morris, Silk, Steinberg, Myers, & Robinson, 2007), this study investigated when in early childhood specific parenting practices lead to increased attention skills rather than occurring in response to child skills. Additionally, the study examined whether parental support of attention acts as a pathway through which children’s attention control capacities predict later use of an attention-based emotion regulation strategy. 120 mother-child dyads were observed in the laboratory at 18, 24, 36, and 48 months during free play, reading, and waiting tasks. Children's sustained focused attention during free play and distraction during a difficult wait were coded, as was the frequency of mothers' structuring of children's attention focus during a reading task. Hypothesized bidirectional longitudinal relations between children's sustained attention and mothers' structuring of children's attention focus were not supported. These behaviors were stable over time but unrelated longitudinally to one another. Path analyses did not support the hypothesis that children's sustained attention skills and mothers' structuring of attention focus is associated with children's use of distraction during a frustrating wait 6 to 12 months later. Results are discussed with respect to individual differences among dyads, the impact of task context on results, and study design.