The Validation of Macro and Micro Observations of Parent–Child Dynamics Using the Relationship Affect Coding System in Early Childhood

Thomas J. Dishion, Chung Jung Mun, Jenn-Yun Tein, Hanjoe Kim, Daniel S. Shaw, Frances Gardner, Melvin N. Wilson, Jenene Peterson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


This study examined the validity of micro social observations and macro ratings of parent–child interaction in early to middle childhood. Seven hundred and thirty-one families representing multiple ethnic groups were recruited and screened as at risk in the context of Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) Nutritional Supplement service settings. Families were randomly assigned to the Family Checkup (FCU) intervention or the control condition at age 2 and videotaped in structured interactions in the home at ages 2, 3, 4, and 5. Parent–child interaction videotapes were micro-coded using the Relationship Affect Coding System (RACS) that captures the duration of two mutual dyadic states: positive engagement and coercion. Macro ratings of parenting skills were collected after coding the videotapes to assess parent use of positive behavior support and limit setting skills (or lack thereof). Confirmatory factor analyses revealed that the measurement model of macro ratings of limit setting and positive behavior support was not supported by the data, and thus, were excluded from further analyses. However, there was moderate stability in the families’ micro social dynamics across early childhood and it showed significant improvements as a function of random assignment to the FCU. Moreover, parent–child dynamics were predictive of chronic behavior problems as rated by parents in middle childhood, but not emotional problems. We conclude with a discussion of the validity of the RACS and on methodological advantages of micro social coding over the statistical limitations of macro rating observations. Future directions are discussed for observation research in prevention science.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)268-280
Number of pages13
JournalPrevention Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017


  • Early childhood
  • Middle childhood
  • Parenting skills
  • Parent–child interaction
  • Problem behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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