A bio-behavioral appraisal of maternal-child engagement and maternal stress in child health outcomes

Licia M Clowtis, The University of Texas School of Nursing at Houston


Objective: Maternal emotional health and the quality of maternal-child interactions during early childhood may play an important role in child health and vulnerability to disease. The aim was to examine the impact of maternal stress and maternal-child engagement (MC-E) on maternal and child biological responses (salivary cortisol, testosterone, interleukin 1-β, and c-reactive protein) and child health outcome in mother-child dyads of preschool children (3-5 years) in a low SES setting. Method: Observational and bio-behavioral data were collected from 58 mother-child dyads in a Head Start preschool setting. Assessments included: maternal stress with the Perceived Stress Scale; child health outcomes with the Pediatric Quality of Life Inventory; and MC-E with videotaped mother-child interactions and scored with the Keys to Interactive Parenting Scale. Morning and bedtime saliva samples were collected from mother and child for biological assays. Results: Maternal stress was significantly and negatively correlated with MC-E and child health outcome. Lower levels of MC-E predicted significantly higher morning cortisol and morning and bedtime testosterone levels in children, but did not significantly impact any of maternal biological responses. MC-E impacted regulation of c-reactive protein in mothers and children and was correlated with interleukin 1-β in mothers. Child cortisol and testosterone did not predict child health outcome. Discussion: Maternal stress and maternal-child interactions play a significant role in the regulation of child stress physiology that may impact child health outcome. Elevated cortisol and testosterone related to high maternal stress and low MC-E may increase the child's vulnerability to negative health outcomes if sustained. More bio-behavioral research is needed to understand how parent-child interactions support child development and impact health outcomes in early childhood.

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Recommended Citation

Clowtis, Licia M, "A bio-behavioral appraisal of maternal-child engagement and maternal stress in child health outcomes" (2013). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3574415.