SRCD 2019 Biennial Conference
March 21-23, 2019
Title: Mothers’ and Fathers’ Executive Function: Influences on Parenting and Early Child Development
Session: Cognition and Parenting in Low-Income Families
Authors: Kelsey Garcia, Natasha Cabrera, Guadalupe Diaz, Stephanie Reich
Abstract: Introduction: Executive function (EF), an aspect of parents’ cognitions, is thought to be particularly important for parenting (Bornstein, 2015). Studies have shown that maternal EF is related to parenting quality and children’s social and cognitive outcomes (Sturge-Apple, Jones, & Suor, 2017). These studies are few and are mostly conducted with mothers raising the question of whether paternal EF also affects children in the same way as maternal EF. We address these gaps by examining the role of mothers’ and fathers’ EF in a sample of low-income, first time parents and their infants.
We test the following hypotheses: (1) High levels of mothers’ and fathers’ EF will predict more parenting practices and sensitivity; (2) High levels of mothers’ and fathers’ EF will predict higher scores on infants’ language and social skills; and (3) Home practices and parental sensitivity will mediate the effect of mothers and fathers EF on child language and social skills at 18 months.
This study uses data from Baby Books 2, a parenting intervention designed for first-time, low-income parents with 9-month-old infants. The sample consists predominately of ethnic minority and immigrant families.
Data are collected when children are 9- and 12-months of age (anticipated N = 200). For parents, data are collected on both mothers’ and fathers’ EF, using the Hearts & Flowers task (Davidson, Amso, Anderson, & Diamond, 2006), parenting quality (i.e., sensitivity, intrusiveness, and cognitive stimulation), coded from a 10-minute free-play interaction (Cox & Crnic, 2003), and self-reports of engagement in positive parenting activities (ECLS-B) when children are 9-months of age. For children, language skills are assessed at 9-months of age using the PLS-4 (Zimmerman, Pond, & Steiner, 2002), and both parents report on their child’s social skills at 12-months of age using the Brief Infant Toddler Social Emotional Assessment (BITSEA; Briggs-Gowan & Carter, 2002).
Preliminary regression analyses showed that fathers’ EF was predictive of both children’s language and social skills, while mothers’ EF was only predictive of social skills. Additionally, engagement in cognitive stimulation activities only mediated the effect on child outcomes for mothers. For fathers, the effect of EF on child outcomes remained strong, even when considering the significant effect of their cognitive stimulation activities. Future analyses will examine whether engagement in caregiving activities and quality of parent-child interactions mediate the effect of parents’ EF on their children’s skills.
We anticipate that our final results will demonstrate the importance of mothers’ and fathers’ EF for both parenting and child development. These results would have substantial implications for parenting interventions and efforts to improve children’s outcomes. Programs and interventions should consider the cognitive abilities of parents as they may be an important factor influencing parenting skills and children’s social and language development.