Mother-Child Emotional Availability Mediating the Effects of Maternal Psychological Well-being and Child's Cognitive Competence on Child Behavior Problems

  • Received : 2011.09.30
  • Accepted : 2011.11.20
  • Published : 2011.12.30


Recent intervention studies document that mother-child dyads with higher levels of Emotional Availability (EA) report fewer child behavior problems than dyads with lower EA. This study examines possible mechanisms that lead to this result by looking at the parent-child micro-system as a whole, with multi-dimensional relationships that include individual differences in the child's cognitive level, parental stress and parent-child interaction. A total 67 children ($1{\frac{1}{2}}$ to $5\;{\frac{1}{2}}$ years of age) and their mothers were videotaped during 30-min play interactions. Interactions were coded using the Emotional Availability (EA) Scales (Biringen, Robinson, & Emde, 1998). Mothers completed Parenting Stress Index-Short Form, Child Behavior Checklist/$1\;{\frac{1}{2}}$ - 5, and the Ages Stages Questionnaire. The findings showed that mothers with higher levels of parenting stress were more likely to be intrusive, hostile, insensitive, and had a tendency to do less structuring in play. The children of stressed and depressed mothers demonstrated less involvement and responsiveness towards their mothers. Children who have higher dyadic EA scores experienced fewer externalizing and internalizing problems. SEM analyses results showed a mediation effect of EA on the association between maternal psychological well-being and child behavior problems. Fewer deficits in child communication skills and problem solving skills that were related with lower parenting stress and depression were associated with higher maternal non-intrusiveness. Higher non-intrusiveness was related to less internalizing and externalizing problems that indicated the indirect effect of child cognitive competence. Possible interpretations and implications of the study findings are discussed.


Emotional availability;cognitive competence;behavior problems;maternal psychological well-being


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