Bidirectional Effects of Parenting and Child Behavior in Internationally Adopting Families

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Abstract

Adoption marks a radical transition in caregiving for thousands of children adopted internationally from institutional care; however, very little is known about the quality of this parenting compared with other populations or the transactional effects of parent and child characteristics in postadoption families during the transition to family care. The current study examined parental sensitivity/responsiveness and structure/limit-setting in a group of 68 children adopted internationally from institutions (41 girls, 27 boys; M age = 26.13 months, SD = 4.99) and their parents over the first year after adoption and compared them to a sample of nonadoptive families (26 girls, 26 boys; M age = 27.65 months, SD = 5.71). Results indicated no mean-level differences in parenting quality on either dimension between adoptive and nonadoptive parents. For postinstitutionalized youth, higher quality parental structure and limit-setting soon after adoption predicted reduced child regulation difficulties 8 months later; however, initial child regulation did not predict later parenting. There were no cross-lagged relations for parental sensitivity/responsiveness. Higher quality preadoptive care for children was associated with higher scores on both sensitivity/responsiveness and structure and limit-setting among adoptive parents. Less growth stunting, indicative of less preadoptive adversity, was associated with parents’ use of more effective structure and limit-setting behaviors. Policies should promote better preadoptive care abroad, such as lower caregiver-child ratios, as well as early adoption. At least in families exhibiting generally high sensitivity/responsiveness, interventions should target parental structure and limit-setting to have the greatest effect on child behavioral regulation in the immediate years postadoption.

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