An Assessment of Preschool Behavioral Problems as Related to Maternal Wellbeing, Parenting Behaviors, and Child Hair Cortisol Concentrations

Emma Jenkins, BA

Boston Children’s Hospital – Research Assistant
Jenkins_Emma poster

Scientific Abstract

Background: Maternal wellbeing plays an important role in child emotional and behavioral development during the preschool years. Previous literature supports the notion that maternal wellbeing is related to child behavioral problems, specifically externalizing behaviors, and deficits in emotion regulation. Mothers who have a worse overall wellbeing are more likely to have children with poorer emotion regulation skills, and increased behavioral problems. Our study adds to prior findings by using a multidimensional assessment of maternal wellbeing, encompassing stress, anxiety, social support, and emotion regulation.

Methods: We recruited 90 mothers and their three-year-old children from in and around Boston, MA. During a laboratory visit, mothers completed questionnaires assessing maternal wellbeing, and child behavioral functioning. A hair sample was collected from the child for later cortisol analysis. Mother-child dyads also participated in a 15 minute free-play interaction, which was later coded for maternal parenting behaviors. Pearson’s Correlations were used to analyze the relationship between variables.

Results: Maternal wellbeing and child externalizing symptoms were negatively correlated (r = -.390,  p < .001), such that mothers with worse wellbeing had children with greater behavioral problems. Maternal wellbeing was positively correlated with observed child responsiveness (r =.255,  p=.016), and involvement (r =.287,  p=.006), during the free-play interaction. Maternal wellbeing and observed parenting behaviors were not correlated. Lastly, a correlation between child externalizing behaviors and child hair cortisol concentrations (HCC), a marker of chronic biological stress, was not found.

Conclusions: Results from this study reflect the importance of maternal wellbeing as related to child behavioral problems, and offer insight as to how some children reach clinical levels of externalizing behaviors.

Live Zoom Session – March 9th

research Areas


Emma Jenkins, BA, Charu Tuladhar, PhD, Katie Kao, PhD, Jerrold Meyer, PhD, Amanda Tarullo, PhD

Principal Investigator

Amanda Tarullo, PhD