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Bidirectional Associations Between Parental Responsiveness and Executive Function During Early Childhood

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Social Development

Published online on


In this study, we examined bidirectional associations between parental responsiveness and executive function (EF) processes in socioeconomically disadvantaged preschoolers. Participants were 534 3‐ to 5‐year‐old children (71 percent Hispanic/Latino; 28 percent African American; 1 percent European American) attending Head Start programs. At Time 1 (T1) and 6.5 months later at Time 2 (T2), parents and children participated in a videotaped free play session and children completed delay inhibition (gift delay‐wrap, gift delay‐bow) and conflict EF (bear/dragon, dimensional change card sort) tasks. Parental warm acceptance, contingent responsiveness, and verbal scaffolding were coded from the free play videos and aggregated to create a parental responsiveness latent variable. A cross‐lagged panel structural equation model indicated that higher T1 parental responsiveness significantly predicted more positive gain in delay inhibition and conflict EF from T1 to T2. Higher T1 delay inhibition, but not T1 conflict EF, significantly predicted more positive change in parental responsiveness from T1 to T2. These associations were not explained by several possible confounding variables, including children's age, gender, race/ethnicity, and verbal ability. Findings suggest that parental responsiveness may support EF development in disadvantaged children, with reciprocal effects of delay inhibition on parental responsiveness.