There is limited research investigating whether maternal behaviors exhibited during non-feeding contexts play a role in the development of obesity, and whether this association varies based on children’s emerging regulatory skills. The objective of this study was to investigate interactions between maternal behaviors and toddler regulation predicting child BMI z-scores (BMIZ) at 4.5 years.
Infant–mother dyads (n = 108) participated in laboratory visits when the child was 18 months and 4.5 years of age. Maternal interactive behaviors (i.e., positive responsiveness, gentle control) were coded from recordings of free play and clean-up tasks with their toddlers. Toddler regulation was assessed via an observational task, experimenter ratings, and parent ratings. Child and mother length/height and weight measurements were recorded and used to calculate child BMIZ and maternal BMI, respectively.
After controlling for covariates, two significant interactions emerged between maternal behaviors and toddler regulation predicting BMIZ at 4.5 years. First, an interaction of positive responsiveness during free play and toddler regulation demonstrated that greater positive responsiveness significantly related to lower child BMIZ for toddlers with poor regulation. Second, an interaction of gentle control during clean-up and toddler regulation indicated that greater gentle control was associated with lower BMIZ for toddlers with lesser regulatory abilities, but higher BMIZ for well-regulated toddlers. No significant main effects emerged for maternal interactive behaviors or toddler regulation.
These results suggest that associations between maternal behaviors and child BMIZ may depend on toddlers’ emerging regulatory abilities. Maternal responsiveness during free play and gentle control during clean-up appear to protect against weight gain, especially for toddlers with lower regulatory abilities. However, greater levels of gentle control may have adverse effects on BMIZ for well-regulated toddlers. These results suggest that both parenting and toddler regulation, examined outside feeding contexts, may have important implications for child obesity.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $41.58 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Lawman HG, Fryar CD, Kruszon-Moran D, Kit BK, et al. Trends in obesity prevalence among children and adolescents in the United States, 1988-1994 through 2013-2014. J Am Med Assoc. 2016;315:2292–9.
Singh AS, Mulder C, Twisk JW, Van Mechelen W, Chinapaw MJ. Tracking of childhood overweight into adulthood: a systematic review of the literature. Obes Rev. 2008;9:474–88.
Hannon TS, Rao G, Arslanian SA. Childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus. Pediatrics. 2005;116:473–80.
Janicke DM, Marciel KK, Ingerski LM, Novoa W, Lowry KW, Sallinen BJ, et al. Impact of psychosocial factors on quality of life in overweight youth. Obesity. 2007;15:1799–807.
Calkins SD. The emergence of self-regulation: Biological and behavioral control mechanisms supporting toddler competencies. In: Brownell C, Kopp C, editors. Socioemotional development in the toddler years: Transitions and transformations. New York, NY: Guilford Press; 2007. pp. 261–84.
Vohs KD, Baumeister RF (editors). Handbook of self-regulation: research, theory, and applications. 2nd edn. New York, NY: Guilford Press, US; 2011.
Anzman-Frasca S, Stifter CA, Birch LL. Temperament and childhood obesity risk: a review of the literature. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2012;33:732–45.
Bergmeier H, Skouteris H, Horwood S, Hooley M, Richardson B. Associations between child temperament, maternal feeding practices and child body mass index during the preschool years: a systematic review of the literature. Obes Rev. 2014;15:9–18.
Kopp CB. Antecedents of self-regulation: a developmental perspective. Dev Psychol. 1982;18:199–214.
Rothbart MK, Ellis LK, Posner MI. Temperament and self-regulation. In: Vohs, Baumeister, editors. Handbook of self-regulation: Research, theory, and applications. 2nd edn. New York, NY, USA: Guilford Press; 2011. pp. 441–60.
Graziano PA, Calkins SD, Keane SP. Toddler self-regulation skills predict risk for pediatric obesity. Int J Obes. 2010;34:633–41.
Graziano PA, Kelleher R, Calkins SD, Keane SP, Brien MO. Predicting weight outcomes in preadolescence: the role of toddlers’ self-regulation skills and the temperament dimension of pleasure. Int J Obes. 2013;37:937–42.
Miller AL, Rosenblum KL, Retzloff LB, Lumeng JC, Observed self-regulation is associated with weight in low-income toddlers. Appetite. 2016;105:705–12.
Lindsey EW, Cremeens PR, Colwell MJ, Caldera YM. The structure of parent–child dyadic synchrony in toddlerhood and children’s communication competence and self-control. Soc Dev. 2009;18:375–96.
Kochanska G, Aksan N. Mother‐child mutually positive affect, the quality of child compliance to requests and prohibitions, and maternal control as correlates of early internalization. Child Dev. 1995;66:236–54.
Augustine ME. Parenting contributions to self-regulatory outcomes: the role of child temperament and contexts of measurement [Doctoral dissertation]. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University; 2016.
Skouteris H, McCabe M, Ricciardelli LA, Milgrom J, Baur LA, Aksan N, et al. Parent–child interactions and obesity prevention: a systematic review of the literature. Early Child Dev Care. 2012;182:153–74.
Kremers S, Sleddens E, Gerards S, Gubbels J, Rodenburg G, Gevers D, et al. General and food-specific parenting: measures and interplay. Child Obes. 2013;9:S22–S31.
Rhee KE, Lumeng JC, Appugliese DP, Kaciroti N, Bradley RH. Parenting styles and overweight status in first grade. Pediatrics. 2006;117:2047–54.
Anderson SE, Gooze RA, Lemeshow S, Whitaker RC. Quality of early maternal-child relationship and risk of adolescent obesity. Pediatrics. 2012;129:132–40.
Avula R, Gonzalez W, Shapiro CJ, Fram MS, Beets MW, Jones SJ, et al. Positive parenting practices associated with subsequent childhood weight change. J Prim Prev. 2011;32:271–81.
Anderson SE, Lemeshow S, Whitaker RC. Maternal-infant relationship quality and risk of obesity at age 5.5 years in a national US cohort. BMC Pediatr. 2014;14:54.
Stifter CA, Willoughby MT, Towe-Goodman N. Agree or agree to disagree? Assessing the convergence between parents and observers on infant temperament. Infant Child Dev. 2008;17:407–26.
Putnam SP, Gartstein MA, Rothbart MK. Measurement of fine-grained aspects of toddler temperament: The Early Childhood Behavior Questionnaire. Infant Behav Dev. 2006;29:386–401.
Rothbart MK, Bates JE. Temperament. In: Damon W, Lerner R, Eisenberg N, editors. Handbook of child psychology. Vol. 3: Social, emotional, and personality development. New York: Wiley; 2006.
Cipriano EA, Stifter CA. Predicting preschool effortful control from toddler temperament and parenting behavior. J Appl Dev Psychol. 2010;31:221–30.
Lindsey EW, Cremeens PR, Caldera YM. Mother-child and father-child mutuality in two contexts: consequences for young children’s peer relationships. Infant Child Dev. 2010;19:142–60.
Kochanska G, Coy KC, Murray KT. The development of self-regulation in the first four years of life. Child Dev. 2001;72:1091–111.
Bayley N. Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development: Administration Manual. 3rd edn. San Antonio, TX: Harcourt Assessment; 2006.
Lindkvist M, Ivarsson A, Silfverdal SA, Eurenius E. Associations between toddlers’ and parents’ BMI, in relation to family socio-demography: a cross-sectional study. BMC Public Health. 2015;15:1252.
Muthuri SK, Onywera VO, Tremblay MS, Broyles ST, Chaput JP, Fogelholm M, et al. Relationships between parental education and overweight with childhood overweight and physical activity in 9-11 year old children: results from a 12-Country Study. PLoS ONE. 2016;11:e0147746.
Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Kit BK, Flegal KM. Prevalence of childhood and adult obesity in the United States, 2011-2012. JAMA. 2014;311:806–14.
Kochanska G. Mutually responsive orientation between mothers and their young children: implications for early socialization. Child Dev. 1997;68:94–112.
Anderson SE, Keim SA. Parent-child interaction, self-regulation, and obesity prevention in early childhood. Curr Obes Rep. 2016;5:192–200.
Saltzman JA, Fiese BH, Bost KK, McBride BA. Development of appetite self‐regulation: integrating perspectives from attachment and family systems theory. Child Dev Perspect. 2018;12(1):51-57.
This study was supported by a grant from the NIDDK (DK081512) awarded to the third author. This work was also supported in part by a postdoctoral fellowship provided to the second author by the NICHD (T32-HD07376) through the Center for Developmental Science at UNC-Chapel Hill. The authors would like to thank the families who participated in the study.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
About this article
Cite this article
Moding, K.J., Augustine, M.E. & Stifter, C.A. Interactive effects of parenting behavior and regulatory skills in toddlerhood on child weight outcomes. Int J Obes 43, 53–61 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41366-018-0162-6
Attachment & Human Development (2020)
The association of parenting practices with toddlers’ dietary intake and BMI, and the moderating role of general parenting and child temperament
Public Health Nutrition (2020)