Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Erika Bocknek

Second Advisor

Douglas Barnett


Emotion regulation is an essential component of adaptive childhood development that is rooted in complex and interacting environmental and biological systems (Hastings et al., 2008). Caregivers play an integral role in promoting their children’s emotion regulation (Morris et al., 2007), while children’s individual physiology affects how they react and respond to the caregiving environment (Beauchaine, 2015). Few studies have examined paternal influence on child emotion regulation, especially among low-income and African American families with toddlers. To address this limitation, the current study investigated relations among three contexts of fathering, parasympathetic regulation, and toddler emotion regulation. This study (N = 92) describes data from fathers (90% African American, 67% annual income < $15,000) and their toddlers (M age = 29.64 months; 60% boys). Data were collected as part of a broader, ongoing study examining family resilience among urban children and their parents. Fathers reported on their own emotion dysregulation (EDS, Bradley et al., 2011), while parenting was assessed during two observed interactions: 1) a post-stressor family reunion; and 2) a play task. Child and paternal respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) was also obtained as an index of parasympathetic arousal (Mindware Technologies, LTD, Westerville, OH). Findings demonstrated a robust association between fathering and toddler emotion regulation, such that paternal emotion dysregulation and engagement following a stressor emerged as significant predictors. Further, toddler RSA moderated the associations between fathering and emotion regulation, such that toddlers with moderate and elevated levels of resting RSA benefitted from paternal emotion regulation and parenting engagement following a stressor. Fathering during play did not have a direct or indirect effect on toddler emotion regulation. Together, results from this study emphasize the importance of fathering on toddler emotion regulation, and present important findings related to the roles of both caregiving and physiologic contexts in early regulatory development.

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Psychology Commons