Human Development and Family Studies

Research Emphases:

Parent-Child Relationships

Dr. Jonathan Tudge studies parenting practices, and how they both influence and are influenced by their children. My research is aimed at understanding the links among (a) parents' values and beliefs about raising children, (b) the types of everyday activities that children of preschool age are involved in with their typical social partners, and (c) how the children's teachers and parents view them, academically, socially, and behaviorally, once they go to school. We interview the parents when their children are three years of age, focusing on the parents' goals, values, and beliefs for their children. At the same time, we observe the settings into which the parents place their children, the children's activities in those settings, and the ways in which their typical social partners (including the parents) deal with them. We observe for the equivalent of one complete day in the children's lives (20 hours of observation on each child, spread over the course of a week), wherever the children happen to be (with parents, in a child care center if they go to one, with grandparents, shopping, etc.). Then, once the children have entered school, we collect more information from both the teachers and the parents, about how they're doing. Most importantly, we have been able to link perceptions of the children's school performance to the types of activities in which they've been involved several years earlier. Various papers on this general theme can be found at my papers link.

Dr. Stephanie Coard -- In addition to conducting rigorous basic research that raises awareness and sensitivity to how socio-cultural issues impact developmental, educational and mental processes and outcomes for African American youth and families, Dr. Coard designs, disseminates and evaluates evidence-based and culturally-appropriate assessment tools and intervention programs for African American youth, families, and professionals providing services to them. A primary focus of Dr. Coard’s research has been the development of culturally-relevant strategies to assist African American parents to prevent and manage common behavior problems of young children. This research has resulted in the development of an observational measure of racial socialization and a parenting curriculum and written materials. The Parent-Child Race-Related Observational Measure (PC-RROM) is a parent-child observational measure of the race-related communication and interaction.  Black Parenting Strengths and Strategies (BPSS) is an evidence-based culturally relevant parenting program for use African American families for preventing and managing common childhood behavior problems. Black Parenting Strengths and Strategies – Child (BPSS-C) is a strengths- and culturally-based program that aims to promote cultural, social and emotional health and academic success within African American children. The BPSS programs have been developed to incorporate the most successful strategies used by parenting and child development specialists, while drawing on the strengths, unique parental strategies and processes inherent in Black families (e.g., racial socialization). 

Dr. Esther Leerkes, Dr. Marion O’Brien, & Dr. Susan Calkins :   We are involved in a variety of collaborative projects relevant to parent-child relationships. 

  • In the Infant-Parent Project, and a soon to be funded extension of this project, we are examining the emotional and cognitive processes that influence maternal sensitivity particularly in response to infant distress. We are interested in identifying: 1) the family origins of mothers' feelings and beliefs about child emotions, 2) the extent to which mothers’ emotions and cognitions in response to crying predict maternal sensitivity to infant distress and to non-distress cues, and 3) the extent to which  sensitivity to infant distress predicts unique variation in young children's attachment security, emotion regulation, and subsequent social competence or behavioral problems.  We are also examining the extent to which children are differentially influenced by specific parenting behaviors based on their unique temperamental characteristics.
  • In the School Transitions and Academic Readiness Project we are examining the extent to which emotion-oriented parenting practices (e.g., responsiveness to child negative emotions, emotion language) and cognitive-oriented parenting practices (e.g., scaffolding, metacognitive language) are distinct constructs with differential origins and unique relationships with young children’s social-emotional and cognitive development respectively.
  • In the Right Track Project, a longitudinal study funded by NIMH, we are examining the extent to which child characteristics such as early reactivity and regulation and specific types of parenting are linked with trajectories in children’s behavior problems over time.

Dr. Marion O’Brien is interested in parenting beliefs and their relation to parenting behavior. I have conducted research into parental attributions for their children’s behavior and found that negative attributions – beliefs that children’s mild misbehavior is an enduring aspect of the child’s personality – are linked to the provision of a lower quality home environment for children. I collaborate with other faculty, including Dr. Susan Calkins on t he RIGHT Track project, where I am interested in how parenting is related to the development of problem behavior.

I am also interested in parenting in diverse families. Currently, a graduate student working with me is studying attributions and beliefs of mothers who are in recovery from substance abuse. In addition, I have examined parenting beliefs in families where a child has been diagnosed with a disability, focusing particularly on autism. A book describing this work, Beyond the Autism Diagnosis: How Professionals can Help Parents was published in 2006.

Dr. Fletcher is interested in the manner in which parenting styles and a variety of parenting practices shape family relationships and child and adolescent well-being. Of particular interest to Dr. Fletcher is the manner in which parents engage in deliberate strategies intended to manage their children’s relationships with peers. Dr. Fletcher utilizes quantitative and qualitative methods to consider how parents’ efforts in this arena emerge and their impact on the nature of children’s relationships with peers.