The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

A Child Gender Comparison of Maternal Supportiveness As a Mediator of Early Emotion Regulation With Later Attention Competence of Young Children From Impoverished Families

Friday, January 17, 2014: 8:00 AM
HBG Convention Center, Room 003A River Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Aidan Bohlander, MSW, Doctoral Student, The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC
Michaela Farber, PhD, BCD, LCSW-C, Assistant Professor, The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C, DC
Purpose: Early emotion regulation and cognitive development are closely interrelated (Gross, 2007), and along with supportive parenting play a crucial role in pathways to optimal school readiness, particularly for children in poverty (Sektnan, McClelland, Acock, & Morrison, 2010).  Research shows that maternal-supportiveness connects to early school readiness (Chazan, et al., 2009; Lugo-Gil &Tamis-LeMonda, 2008; Mistry et al., 2010; Raikes et al., 2007) and parental response to children varies by gender (Weinberg, Tronick, Cohn, & Olson, 1999; Brophy et al., 2013). Research also demonstrates that children’s emotion regulation connects to their ability for sustaining attention (Olson et al., 2005) and early attention difficulties compromise later school readiness (Rabiner & Coie, 2000). Based on attachment theory, early maternal-supportiveness is necessary for children’s mastery of emotional-developmental competencies (Fonagy & Target, 2005); therefore, this longitudinal study tested whether 24-month maternal-supportiveness mediated 24-month emotion regulation and cognition on children’s 60-month sustained attention, and whether child-gender moderated these connections. The knowledge derived from this study is relevant to social work practice in early childhood settings.  Authors’ university IRB approved the study. Methods: Authors conducted path analysis with secondary-data of 2977 young children in low-income families enrolled (at birth) in Early Head Start and Research Evaluation (EHSRE) project 1996-2010.  Data are available through Inter-University-Consortium for Political and Social Research. Data collection involved protocols with structured-interviews, scripts-loaded laptops, timed to children’s birthdates (Love et al., 2002). Maternal-demographics and child-gender were parent-reported during enrollment. Maternal-supportiveness was derived from video-taped Three-Bag-Assessment of parent-child interaction (Brady-Smith et al., 2005). Children’s cognition and emotion regulation were examiner-assessed by BSID-II (Bayley, 1993). Sustained attention was examiner-assessed with LIPSR (Roid & Miller, 1997). Testing used multiple regression analyses with mediation, moderation, and Sobel approach (Preacher & Hayes, 2004); verified by structural equation modeling (SEM) in SPSS-AMOS-20; alpha was set at p<.05 (Holmbeck, 2002). Results: The final path-SEM-model (Chi-square=31.16, df=10, p<.001; NFI=.971, CFI=.980, RMSEA=.027, Hoelter’s N=2217 at p=.01) supported theoretical predictions; revealing Adj.R-Square of 14% of variance in children’s 60-month-sustained attention, and 17% of 24-month-maternal-supportiveness and 22% of 24-month-child-cognition. Results show early maternal-supportiveness and cognition both partially mediated the longitudinal-connection between early emotion regulation with later sustained attention, and cognition also partially mediated emotional regulation with maternal-supportiveness. Paths were supported by Sobel tests (p< .001). Nested SEM-models show child-gender moderation. Boys’ early maternal-supportiveness (Beta=.13, p<.001) fully mediated connections to later sustained attention. Girls’ early maternal-supportiveness (Beta=.03, p>.05) had no connection to later sustained attention. Study-limitations are addressed. Implications: Findings suggest that maternal-supportiveness matters for early school readiness, but primarily for boys, and not for girls. The study supports prior similar findings on maternal supportiveness by Brophy et al., 2013. When social workers are developing strategies for strengthening children’s early regulatory competencies through practice-interventions and for policies promoting early school readiness in early childhood programs, results suggest that they need to consider children’s and their parents’ differential gender-based responses to young children’s needs. Further exploration of the differential effect of maternal supportiveness by gender is needed.