Parental reflective functioning and mother-child interactions – a preliminary investigation

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Carlson, Janelle
Major Professor
Kere . Hughes-Belding
Committee Member
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Human Development and Family Studies

The Department of Human Development and Family Studies focuses on the interactions among individuals, families, and their resources and environments throughout their lifespans. It consists of three majors: Child, Adult, and Family Services (preparing students to work for agencies serving children, youth, adults, and families); Family Finance, Housing, and Policy (preparing students for work as financial counselors, insurance agents, loan-officers, lobbyists, policy experts, etc); and Early Childhood Education (preparing students to teach and work with young children and their families).


The Department of Human Development and Family Studies was formed in 1991 from the merger of the Department of Family Environment and the Department of Child Development.

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  • College of Human Sciences (parent college)
  • Department of Child Development (predecessor)
  • Department of Family Environment (predecessor)

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Parental reflective functioning (PRF) is a crucial mentalization skill that influences how parents respond to their children (Rutherford, 2013). Reflective functioning, in a general sense, is a mentalizing skill used to understand the emotional states and intentions of others (Slade 2005). The reflective functioning capacity of parents has been shown to predict parent-child attachment and children’s overall developmental outcomes (Fonagy, 1991; Heron-Delaney, 2016; Smaling, 2017). PRF specifically focuses on a parent’s ability to reflect on the internal experience of their child while also attending to their own reactions, thoughts, and feelings about their child. This study was a preliminary investigation into the hypothesized relationships between parental social cognitions, including PRF and parental attitudes, and the quality of mother-child play interactions with 40 dyads to determine what specific parental social cognitions are the strongest predictors of parent behavior during interactions. Initial correlations did not support these hypotheses as there were no significant relationships between parental social cognitions and mother-child interactions in this sample. However, PRF and parental attitudes were significantly related to each other and to knowledge of child development. These findings suggest a complex relationship between PRF and parental attitudes that should continue to be studied.

Sun Dec 01 00:00:00 UTC 2019