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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Associations between maternal executive functions and parenting behavior : are they moderated by parental childrearing attitudes? Colalillo, Sara


Increasing evidence suggests that mothers’ executive functioning abilities promote self-regulation of their parenting behaviors; however, inconsistencies across findings suggest that other variables may also play a role in these associations. This dissertation sought to clarify links between maternal executive functions (working memory [WM] and inhibitory control [IC]), and parenting behavior (overreactive and positive), and to examine whether attitudes about childrearing moderated these associations. Two-hundred and seven mothers of 3-7 year-old children participated in an online study, and completed task-based and self-report measures of WM and IC, and self-report measures of parenting and childrearing attitudes, as well as potential control variables including personality characteristics, household chaos, and child behavior problems. At the bivariate level, the WM task was correlated with positive parenting, and self-reported executive functioning difficulties were correlated with both overreactive and positive parenting, in the expected directions. However, these associations were not maintained in partial correlations including relevant covariates. Next, the hypothesized moderation of the relation between executive functioning and parenting by childrearing attitudes was tested in six regression models. Progressive childrearing attitudes negatively predicted overreactive parenting. However, WM and IC were not significant predictors, nor did they interact with childrearing attitudes to predict overreactive parenting. Regarding positive parenting, WM, childrearing attitudes, and their interaction were not significant predictors. However, there was an interaction between IC and attitudes in predicting positive parenting. At low levels of progressive attitudes, IC positively predicted positive parenting; however, at high levels of progressive attitudes, IC negatively predicted positive parenting. A similar pattern of findings was obtained using the self-report measure of executive functioning. These results suggest that, when mothers hold childrearing attitudes that place importance on child independence, better IC and fewer executive functioning problems allow them to inhibit the use of particular positive parenting practices, in favor of an approach that allows greater child autonomy. I discuss discrepancies between findings from this study and past research, highlighting the need to carefully consider the manner in which executive functions and parenting are measured. I conclude with directions for future research and comment on the implications of these results for clinical work with parents.

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