This study investigated the interaction between children's parasympathetic functioning and maternal sensitive parenting behaviors during infancy and toddlerhood in the prediction of children's executive functions (EF) at the age of 5 years. Participants included 137 children and their mothers who were followed from the age of 3 months to 5 years. Children's cardiac activity was recorded at rest at multiple times from ages 3 to 36 months, and estimates of respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA; a measure of parasympathetic functioning) were calculated. Sensitive parenting was assessed during a mother–child play task at ages 6, 12, 24, and 36 months, and 5 years. Children completed age appropriate EF tasks at the age of 5 years. The link between sensitive parenting during toddlerhood (ages 24 and 36 months) and children's later EF was moderated by children's RSA such that this positive link was evident only among children who had low levels of baseline RSA, and not among those who had high levels of baseline RSA. These findings were obtained while controlling for concurrent sensitive parenting and maternal and child verbal abilities. Results from this study provide evidence for the significant role of biopsychosocial processes in early childhood in the development of EF.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
- Developmental and Educational Psychology