ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2017, Vol. 49 ›› Issue (4): 460-471.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2017.00460

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Maternal positive parenting behaviors and toddler’s compliance: Prediction from maternal sensitivity in infancy and bidirectional effects of autonomy encouragement in toddlerhood

DONG Shuyang; LIANG Xi; ZHANG Ying; WANG Zhengyan   

  1. (Department of Psychology, Center for Child Development, Learning and Cognitive Key Laboratory, Capital Normal University, Beijing 100048, China)
  • Published:2017-04-25 Online:2017-04-25
  • Contact: WANG Zhengyan, E-mail:


Children’s compliance is considered as an important developmental milestone in the process of socialization and self-regulation during toddlerhood. Two forms of compliant behaviors have been distinguished in previous studies: committed compliance, with children complying to directives with willing stance; situational compliance, with children needing adult’s frequent prompt to behave properly. And committed compliance but not the situational compliance were found to show its implication for internalization in preschool years. In addition, parental control strategies and power-assertive behaviors were found to be correlated to children’s compliance, but only have limited explanation for individual differences in compliant behaviors. Thus, the aim of the present study was to examine whether positive parenting behaviors make contribution to early development of compliance. Among the positive parenting practices, maternal sensitivity and autonomy encouragement were highlighted in current study. According to the attachment theory, mothers who displayed adequate sensitivity to their children’s needs for nutrition and security in infancy would establish secure attachment relationship with their children. These secure attached children could regulate their emotion and behaviors better than their insecure counterparts, and thus, would willingly cooperate while encountering maternal requests and prohibitions in later development. It should be noted that children’s urge for autonomy is booming after 2 years old. According to self-determination theory, parents should support children’s assertion for autonomy in order to attain children’s obedience and cooperation during this period. Therefore, autonomy encouragement would show developmentally appropriate influence on committed compliance and help to build reciprocal relationship between mother and child in toddlerhood. Given the above considerations, this longitudinal study was conducted to investigate whether maternal sensitivity in infancy and autonomy encouragement in toddlerhood have different impact on children’s two forms of compliant behaviors in different developmental phases. In this study, 84 infants (37 boys and 47 girls) and their mothers were recruited from local communities in Beijing and included as participants in this study. When children were 6 months old (T1), their temperaments were reported by mothers, and 4 mother-child interactions were videotaped during 1.5 hours’ home visit and further coded to obtain maternal sensitivity by Maternal Behavioral Q-Sort. When the children were 14 months old (T2), maternal sensitivity was recorded and then coded using the same procedure as T1. When the children were 25 months old (T3), maternal autonomy encouragement was indexed by a coding system that focuses on autonomy- or connectedness-oriented parenting behaviors during three interactions at home, and children’s compliant and noncompliant behaviors were coded based on the clean-up task. At T4, the children were 38 months old and were invited to visit the laboratory for 2 hours. Maternal autonomy encouragement and children’s compliance were recorded and then coded using the same procedures as T3. As hypothesized, the results indicated that maternal sensitivity in infancy was positively associated with 2-year-olds’ committed compliance at a marginally significant level and negatively associated with children’s situational compliance at 2 and 3 years old. Moreover, after taking into account continuity in children’s compliance and maternal autonomy encouragement during 2 years old to 3 years old, positive reciprocal influences were found between children’s committed compliance and maternal autonomy encouragement, but none of the cross-lagged path coefficients was found between children’s situational compliance and maternal autonomy encouragement. In summary, maternal sensitivity in infancy, as a contributor to children’s secure attachment, was found to have promotive effect on children’s committed compliance only at 2 years old but not at 3 years old. These findings suggest that when the toddlers are at an age struggling for self-achievement and self-confidence, it is important to highlight maternal autonomy encouragement as another developmentally appropriate parenting practice. Moreover, this longitudinal study further provided evidence for maternal autonomy encouragement as a positive parenting practice for cultivating children’s committed compliance during 2 to 3 years old of age. That is, during toddlerhood, mothers who encourage their child to be autonomous would find their children more cooperative and compliant, which, in turn, prompts mothers to give more autonomy to their children. Thus, by adjusting their positive parenting behaviors from sensitivity to autonomy encouragement when children are during the transition from infancy to toddlerhood, parents will exhibit positive influence on children’s committed compliance. The findings of this study suggest that if parenting practices interventions are successful at matching children’s needs in different developmental phases, this may help cultivate children’s committed compliance. That is, for the development of children’s compliance to proceed well, parents should have adequate sensitivity to their children’s needs for nutrition and security in infancy, and give their children more opportunities to regulate behaviors in daily lives with increase of need for autonomy in toddlerhood.

Key words: compliance, positive parenting, developmentally appropriate practice, maternal sensitivity, autonomy encouragement, developmental needs