Date of Award

Spring 5-12-2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Educational Psychology and Special Education

First Advisor

Maggie Renken

Second Advisor

Ann C. Kruger

Third Advisor

Gabriel Kuperminc

Fourth Advisor

Nicole Patton-Terry

Abstract

Executive function (EF) is a multi-component construct responsible for higher-order thinking abilities such as problem solving, goal-setting, and attentional flexibility (Jurado & Rosselli, 2007). Executive functions are associated with the prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain that undergoes substantial growth and modification from birth to age five. For young children, EF supports behavioral and social adjustment and is predictive of future academic achievement (Brock, Rimm-Kaufman, Nathanson & Grimm, 2007). The neurobiological components of EF have been extensively researched, but only recently have socio-environmental influences come to light. This ecological perspective may be of particular importance for children growing up in low-income households, who tend to demonstrate weaker performance on EF-related tasks (Hackman, Gallop, Evans & Farah, 2015). Parents and/or primary caregivers serve as one vital component of children’s early environments. Preliminary research investigating parent behaviors – such as scaffolding, stimulation, sensitivity/responsivity vs. hostility/rejection, and control – (as observed during specific tasks) affect the development of children’s EF. The contributions of parents’ knowledge about effective parenting and their self-reported behaviors, however, have not been explored. The current study investigated the independent influences of parents’ behaviors, parenting knowledge, and involvement on young children’s developing EF. A secondary aim of the study was to better understand and characterize parents’ knowledge and beliefs. 52 parent-child dyads from three early childcare centers in the metro-Atlanta area participated in the study. Hierarchical regression analyses were used to determine the unique variance in children’s EF accounted for by parent variables. Parents’ use of non-reasoning, punitive strategies negatively contributed to children’s inhibitory control and their good-natured/easygoingness positively contributed to their set-shifting abilities. Parents’ knowledge about parenting practices did not significantly contribute to children’s EF. Findings from this study inform existing research demonstrating an association between children’s EF and parenting practices and provides new knowledge regarding normative and non-normative parenting knowledge and practices for the specific population.

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