Parental Reactivity to Disruptive Behavior in Toddlerhood: An Experimental Study

Susanne Schulz, Patty Leijten, Daniel S. Shaw, Geertjan Overbeek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Disruptive child behavior is often exacerbated and maintained by negative and inconsistent parenting behavior that unwittingly reinforces disruptive behavior. One explanation for why parents render it difficult to remain positive and consistent might be the impact of disruptive child behavior on parent self-efficacy and stress. This study investigates how disruptive child behavior in a challenging parenting situation shapes parental momentary thoughts of self-efficacy and feelings of stress (i.e., perceived distress and physiological arousal), and how these in turn predict parenting behavior. We experimentally manipulated a challenging parenting situation that was designed to elicit disruptive child behavior. Specifically, we examined: (1) the effects of the challenging condition compared to a control situation on parental state self-efficacy and stress, (2) whether parents with lower trait self-efficacy and higher trait stress in daily life are most affected, and (3) how state self-efficacy and stress predict parental subsequent use of direct commands and positive affect. Parent-toddler dyads were randomly assigned to a challenging or control situation (N = 110, Mage = 30.9 months). As predicted, parents in the challenging situation, relative to control, reported less self-efficacy and more perceived distress, and showed increased physiological arousal. Self-efficacy was compromised particularly in parents with low trait self-efficacy. Our findings suggest that child disruptive behavior drives parental state self-efficacy and stress, especially momentary self-efficacy in parents who generally feel less self-efficacious.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)779–790
JournalJournal of Abnormal Child Psychology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Disruptive behavior
  • Self-efficacy
  • Stress
  • Arousal
  • Individual differences
  • Positive parenting


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