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Parent mental health and associations with mind-mindedness across two infant interactions: free play and a teaching task

Mind-mindedness (MM) is the tendency of a parent to recognise and treat their child as having a mind of their own. The current study aimed to examine associations of parent mental health and wellbeing symptoms with parental MM across two infant interactions: a free play and a teaching task. Sixty-two parent-infant dyads from New Zealand and Australia participated in the interactions, which were recorded and then coded for positive and negatively valenced appropriate and non-attuned MM. In addition, parents also completed the Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale (DASS-21; Lovibond & Lovibond, 1995), the Difficulties with Emotion Regulation Scale (DERS; Gratz & Roemer, 2004) and the Parental Reflective Functioning Questionnaire (PRFQ; Luyten, Mayes, Sadler, Fonagy, Nicholls, Crowley & Slade, 2009) via an online survey. The results showed that the proportion of appropriate positive MM comments differed across the tasks. Parents spoke more overall during free play but made more appropriate positive and negative comments in the teaching task. Greater parental stress and anxiety symptoms were associated with more appropriate negative mind-minded comments, with different patterns seen across the two tasks. In free play, stress was associated with appropriate negative MM; whereas in the teaching task, greater parent stress and anxiety were associated with more appropriate negative MM and fewer non-attuned MM comments. Appropriate and non-attuned MM comments were positively correlated with parental pre-mentalising. Increased parental difficulties with emotional regulation were linked to an increase in appropriate negative and also non-attuned MM comments. Stress explained 11.7% of the variance in appropriate negative MM comments in free play, and anxiety explained 12.1% of the variance in appropriate negative MM during the teaching task. Stress and PRFQ pre-mentalising together explained 23.2% of the variance in non-attuned MM comments in the teaching task The current findings have implications for understanding how parental wellbeing is associated with differences in MM and extend existing research from free play contexts to the parent-infant teaching context. Understanding differences in MM as a function of parent mental health is important in targeting future MM interventions to support high-risk parents. This research was conducted over the COVID period with varying impacts. In particular, DERS and DASS scores were higher than other research conducted prior to COVID, so caution is required when considering the generalisability of the results. However, this may reflect the ‘new normal’ for a significant portion of time as COVID impact has been reported to be significant and ongoing.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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