Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Miriam K. Ehrensaft

Subject Categories

Clinical Psychology | Developmental Psychology | Psychology


Assessment; Child behavior; Externalizing behavior; Naturalistic observation; Parenting


Externalizing behavior problems have severe clinical implications. In fact, they have been found to be the primary basis for mental health referrals in early childhood. Findings from research on the etiology and development of externalizing behavior problems indicate these in addition to having significant effects throughout the life span effects also extend across multiple generations. Family and child development research consistently finds that one of the most significant modifiable factors in the prevention and treatment of externalizing behavior problems in early childhood is parenting practices. Unfortunately, much of the extant literature is limited by parenting measures that are prone to recall bias, impression management, and limited ecological validity. Furthermore, ethnic minority families and families of low socioeconomic status are greatly underrepresented in the research examining the relationship between parenting practices and externalizing behavior problems as well as in the research on the development of parenting measures and research methodology to further examine this relationship.

The purpose of the current study was threefold: (1) to develop and validate a parenting coding system, the iPARENT, to assess naturally occurring parenting behavior data obtained by a novel recording device, the iEAR, in the home; (2) to identify and measure the degree of parenting practices empirically shown to increase the risk for child externalizing behavior problems in a sample of young mothers and examine how it relates to mothers' self-report of their own parenting stress, parenting practices, and their children's behavior as well as observed child behavior; and (3) to assess feasibility of iEAR and iPARENT use.

An ethnically diverse sample of 89 college mothers and their one- to six-year-old children participated in the study. Mothers were recruited from a public Northeastern University via the college's Child Care Center, flyers posted on campus, and in-person recruitment on campus. Mothers were a mean age of 24 years (SD = 2.92) and children were a mean age of 3.71 years (SD = 1.49); 57.3% of the children were male. Mothers completed self-report measures of parenting stress, parenting practices, and child behavior. Parenting practices and child behavior data were also obtained through iEAR observations and were coded according to the iPARENT coding scheme.

Results indicated that the iPARENT is a reliable measure of parenting and child behaviors. On average, mothers spent 62% of their interactions with their children delivering information; 26% delivering commands (of which 62% did not give the child an opportunity to comply); 10% delivering criticisms; and .02% delivering praise. An exploratory factor analysis with a target rotation revealed that the iPARENT consists of a three-factor structure: "Warmth," "Harshness," and "Ineffective demands for compliance." Convergent validity could not be established between the iPARENT and mothers' self-report on the Parenting Scale; however, the iPARENT demonstrated good discriminant validity. A significant relationship was found between mothers' self-reported parenting stress and observed negative affect and praise. Mothers' engagement and critical remarks significantly predicted concurrent child noncompliance frequency. Harshness of mothers' criticism significantly predicted concurrent child backtalk frequency. iPARENT assessed parenting practices were not found to significantly predict mothers' reports of child misbehavior. However, post-hoc analyses revealed that for children ages four-years and older, iPARENT assessed noncompliance significantly predicted mothers' reports of child behavior, suggesting that the iPARENT may be a more valid assessment tool for children at least four-years-old. Lastly, the iEAR was found to be feasible for research practices and to potentially assist with the retention of ethnic minority and low SES families in observational research. The iEAR and the iPARENT show potential in obtaining reliable and valid parenting and child behavior data of at-risk families. Further research is warranted to examine the iPARENT's ability to discriminate between clinical and nonclinical samples. Also, further research should aim to replicate findings with other samples of ethnic minority families, fathers, and a larger sample of older children in order to generalize findings and further validate use of the iPARENT in child behavior research.