Determinants of Change in Maternal Sensitivity: Contributions of Context, Temperament, and Developmental Risk

Lucia Ciciolla, Keith Crnic, Stephen West

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Objective. Maternal sensitivity is a fundamental parenting construct and a determinant of positive child outcomes and healthy parent-child relationships. Few longitudinal studies have investigated determinants of sensitive parenting, particularly in a population of children at risk for developmental delay. Design. This study modeled trajectories of maternal sensitivity observed in two independent parenting contexts at child ages 3, 4, and 5 years. The sample included N = 247 mother-child dyads, with n = 110 children classified as at risk for developmental delays. Predictors included maternal distress, child anger proneness, and developmental risk status. Results. Maternal sensitivity changed during more demanding parenting tasks over the 3-year period but not during a low-demand task. Mothers of children with developmental risk, relative to mothers of typically developing children, and mothers of boys relative to mothers of girls, showed less sensitivity during more demanding parenting tasks. Conclusion. Early developmental risk and child gender contribute to the nature of maternal sensitivity over time, but their contributions depend on the situational demands of the interaction. This contextualized view of sensitivity provides further evidence in support of parenting as a dynamic developmental process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)178-195
Number of pages18
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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