Parenting :: Study examines parent-child interactions in at-risk families

A closer look at the way parents interact with children may provide clues to mistreatment of kids and pave the way for potential interventions to prevent the problem.

“There is very little understanding of the moment to moment interaction between parents and children in high risk families,” said Elizabeth Skowron, associate professor of counseling psychology in Penn State’s College of Education, “More than just understanding effects of child maltreatment, for example, we need to understand the ways in which ongoing relationship patterns in high risk and healthy families affect children’s emotional and behavioral outcomes.”

Skowron has received a $1.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Mental Health for a five-year study that will seek to identify patterns of interaction between parents and preschool children, and how these patterns relate to children’s skills to regulate their emotion and behavior.

Child maltreatment affects nearly a million kids each year, and is a serious public health problem in the United States, Skowron noted.

Over the next five years, Skowron and her staff at Penn State’s Family Systems Laboratory hope their study will plug gaps in the existing literature by identifying relationship patterns underlying the severity and type of maltreatment and help mental health professionals better understand why some maltreated children do relatively well while many others struggle across a variety of domains.

The goal of the five-year study, Skowron added, is to inform the development of more effective family therapies for maltreated children who are at-risk for emotional or behavioral problems.

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