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The Relations Among Stress, Executive Functions, and Harsh Parenting in Mothers

Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology
Joanne L. Park, Charlotte Johnston
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The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s10802-020-00622-x) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

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Stress is a common experience that can spillover into parenting, which in turn has important implications for child behavior. Parents’ executive functioning (EF) may buffer the association between feelings of stress and parenting. However, using lower socioeconomic status (SES) and household chaos as indicators of stress, research has demonstrated inconsistent patterns with regard to this moderating role of EF. This study’s first aim examined the moderating role of maternal EF on the associations between SES and household chaos, and harsh parenting. The second aim investigated the effects of experimentally induced stress on harsh parenting and whether maternal EF moderated these effects. A final sample of 101 mothers of 6 to 10-year-old children participated by completing measures of EF, household chaos, SES, and harsh parenting. Additionally, mothers were randomly assigned to either a stress group or a control group. Throughout the stress (or control) induction, mothers rated their harsh parenting in response to child misbehavior vignettes. Findings revealed that stronger EF reduced the association between household chaos and harsh parenting. There were no significant effects of SES or experimentally induced stress on harsh parenting, and EF was not a significant moderator for these stressors. These results highlight the buffering role of EF for more chronic stressors such as household chaos. SES and more acute stress, as manipulated by the TSST, at least in the current sample, may be less relevant.

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