Parental buffering in the context of poverty: positive parenting behaviors differentiate young children’s stress reactivity profiles


By bhadmin February 2, 2021

Experiencing poverty increases vulnerability for dysregulated hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis functioning and compromises long-term health. Positive parenting buffers children from HPA axis reactivity, yet this has primarily been documented among families not experiencing poverty. We tested the theorized power of positive parenting in 124 parent–child dyads recruited from Early Head Start ( M age = 25.21 months) by examining child cortisol trajectories using five samples collected across a standardized stress paradigm. Piecewise latent growth models revealed that positive parenting buffered children’s stress responses when controlling for time of day, last stress task completed, and demographics. Positive parenting also interacted with income such that positive parenting was especially protective for cortisol reactivity in families experiencing greater poverty. Findings suggest that positive parenting behaviors are important for protecting children in families experiencing low income from heightened or prolonged physiologic stress reactivity to an acute stressor.

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