How do mothers and fathers interact with their children after an injury? Exploring the role of parental acute stress, optimism, and self-efficacy

Shaminka N. Mangelsdorf, Matthias R. Mehl, Jianrong Qiu, Eva Alisic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Objective In the aftermath of a child injury, children and parents can jointly experience acute stress symptoms. Optimism and self-efficacy might buffer against post-traumatic stress disorder. Knowing that children are innately receptive to parent modeling, we were interested in exploring how parent acute stress, optimism, and self-efficacy might transpire in parent–child interactions and whether any differences existed between mothers and fathers. Methods We recruited 71 families of seriously injured children who were hospitalized for at least 24 hr. Parents completed self-report measures of acute stress, optimism, and self-efficacy. Children wore the Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR(2)); Mehl, M. R. [2017]. The electronically activated recorder (EAR): A method for the naturalistic observation of daily social behavior. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 26, 184–190) for a 2-day period postdischarge. The EAR recorded ambient sounds for 30 s every 5 min. The audio recordings were transcribed and coded. We derived a percentage of time spent with each parent (interaction time), and average ratings of the emotional tone of voice for each speaker. Results Overall, parental acute stress and self-efficacy were not associated with interaction time or emotional tone, and parents generally spent less time with older children. Compared to fathers, mothers spent significantly more time with their child, particularly for daughters, but mothers did not differ from fathers in emotional tone, acute stress, optimism, or self-efficacy. For mothers, optimism may be associated with greater interaction time and more positive emotional tone. Conclusions The present study highlighted parent gender differences in time spent with children and enabled the inclusion of more fathers using a naturalistic observational tool.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)311-322
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of pediatric psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 1 2019


  • Child injury
  • EMA
  • Parent–child interactions
  • Traumatic stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'How do mothers and fathers interact with their children after an injury? Exploring the role of parental acute stress, optimism, and self-efficacy'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this