Bidirectional effects of parenting and child behavior in internationally adopting families

Jamie M. Lawler, Kalsea J. Koss, Megan R. Gunnar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)563-573
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Family Psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Aug 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the families for their participation, and the International Adoption Project staff, and coders for their contribution. Grant support was provided by R01 MH080905 and P50 MH078105 (to MRG), by the Center for Neurobehavioral Development (University of Minnesota), and by NIMH training grants T32 MH018921 and T32 MH15755 (to KJK). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not represent the views of the National Institutes of Health.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 American Psychological Association.


  • Adoption
  • Adversity
  • Bidirectional effects
  • Parenting
  • Self-regulation


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