Caregiving as Coregulation: Psychobiological Processes and Child Functioning

Part of the National Symposium on Family Issues book series (NSFI)


Although considerable research has sought to understand the relations between parental behavior and a range of child developmental outcomes, much of this work has been conducted at a very broad level of analysis. Psychobiological theory and research point to the need for models of caregiving that offer greater specificity regarding processes that may be implicated in the effects of these relationships. Recent work on animals and some work on humans have focused more on the proximal mechanisms through which caregivers and infants affect one another. This chapter presents a model of the caregiver–child relationship that focuses on proximal processes operating within both caregiver and child. This model uses a self-regulatory framework to capture the levels of influence of the caregiver’s behavior on the child’s functioning. Next, I present an overview of physiological regulation and findings that support its role as foundational to more sophisticated emotional and behavioral regulation. Then, I provide evidence for the effects of caregiver behavior on physiological regulation. Finally, I offer general recommendations for future research that could illuminate how specific types of caregiver behavior influence multiple levels of child behavior.


Child Relationship Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia Physiological Regulation Regulatory Skill Disruptive Behavior Problem 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The writing of this manuscript was supported in part by a National Institute of Health Research Scientist Career Development Award (K02) to Susan D. Calkins (MH 74077).


  1. Achenbach, T. M., Howell, C. T., Quay, H. C., & Connors, C. K. (1991). National survey of problems and competencies among four- to sixteen-year-olds: Parents’ reports for normative and clinical samples. Monogr Soc Res Child Dev, 56, (Serial No. 225, Whole No. 3).Google Scholar
  2. Baumeister, R. F., & Vohs, K. D. (2004). Handbook of self-regulation: Research, theory, and application. New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  3. Beauregard, M., Levesque, J., & Paquette, V. (2004). Neural basis of conscious and voluntary self-regulation of emotion. In M. Beauregard (Ed.), Consciousness, emotional self-regulation and the brain (pp. 163–194). Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
  4. Blair, C. (2002). School readiness: Integrating cognition and emotion in a neurobiological conceptualization of children’s functioning at school entry. American Psychologist, 57, 111–127.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Calatayud, F., Coubard, S., & Belzung, C. (2004). Emotional reactivity may not be inherited but influenced by parents. Physiological Behavior, 80, 465–474.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Caldji, C., Tannenbaum, B., Sharma, S., Francis, D., Plotsky, P. M., & Meaney, M. J. (1998). Maternal care during infancy regulates the development of neural systems mediating the expression of fearfulness in the rat. Neurobiology, 9, 5335–5340.Google Scholar
  7. Calkins, S. D. (1997). Cardiac vagal tone indices of temperamental reactivity and behavioral regulation in young children. Developmental Psychobiology, 31, 125–135.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Calkins, S. D. (2002). Does aversive behavior during toddlerhood matter? The effects of difficult temperament on maternal perceptions and behavior. Infant Mental Health Journal, 23, 381–402.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Calkins, S. D. (2004). Early attachment processes and the development of emotional self-regulation. In R. Baumeister & K. Vohs (Eds.), Handbook of self-regulation: Research, theory, and applications (pp. 324–339). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  10. Calkins, S. D., & Dedmon, S. E. (2000). Physiological and behavioral regulation in two-year-old children with aggressive/destructive behavior problems. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 28, 103–118.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Calkins, S. D., Dedmon, S., Gill, K., Lomax, L., & Johnson, L. (2002). Frustration in infancy: Implications for emotion regulation, physiological processes, and temperament. Infancy, 3, 175–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Calkins, S. D., Graziano, P. A., & Keane, S. P. (2007). Cardiac vagal regulation differentiates among children at risk for behavior problems. Biological Psychology, 74, 144–153.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Calkins, S. D., Graziano, P., Berdan, L., Keane, S. P., & Degnan, K. (2008). Predicting cardiac vagal regulation in early childhood from maternal–child relationship quality during toddlerhood. Developmental Psychobiology, 50, 751–766.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Calkins, S. D., & Hill, A. L. (2007). Caregiver influences on emerging emotion regulation: Biological and environmental transactions in early development. In J. Gross (Ed.), Handbook of emotion regulation (pp. 229–248). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  15. Calkins, S. D., & Keane, S. P. (2004). Cardiac vagal regulation across the preschool period: Stability, continuity, and implications for childhood adjustment. Developmental Psychobiology, 45, 101–112.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Calkins, S. D., Smith, C. L, & Gill, K. L. (1998). Maternal interactive style across contexts: Relations to emotional, behavioral, and physiological regulation during toddlerhood. Social Development, 7, 350–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Chambers, A., & Allen, J. (2007). Cardiac vagal control, emotion, psychopathology, and health. Biological Psychology, 74, 113–115.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Champagne, F., & Meaney, M. J. (2001). Like mother, like daughter: Evidence for non-genetic transmission of parental behavior and stress responsivity. Progressive Brain Research, 133, 287–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Crockenberg, S., & Leerkes, E. (2004). Infant and maternal behaviors regulate infant reactivity to novelty at 6 months. Developmental Psychology, 40, 1123–1132.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Eisenberg, N., Smith, C., Sadovsky, A., & Spinrad, T. (2004). Effortful control: Relations with emotion regulation, adjustment, and socialization in childhood. In R. Baumeister & K. Vohs (Eds.), Handbook of self-regulation: Research, theory, and applications (pp. 259–282). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  21. El-Sheik, M., Harger, T., & Whitson, S. (2006). Longitudinal relations between marital conflict and child adjustment: Vagal regulation as a protective factor. Journal of Family Psychology, 20, 30–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Feldman, R. (2006). From biological rhythms to social rhythms: Physiological precursors of mother–infant synchrony. Developmental Psychology, 42, 175–188.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Fox, N., & Calkins, S. D. (2003). The development of self-control of emotion: Intrinsic and extrinsic influences. Motivation and Emotion, 23, 7–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Francis, D. D., Caldji, C., Champagne, F., Plotsky, P. M., & Meaney, M. J. (1999). The role of cortcotropin-releasing factor – norepinephrine systems in mediating the effects of early experience on the development of behavioral and endocrine responses to stress. Biological Psychiatry, 46, 1153–1166.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gilliom, M., & Shaw, D. S. (2004). Codevelopment of externalizing and internalizing problems in early childhood. Development and Psychopathology, 16, 313–333.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gunnar, M. R. (2006). Social regulation of stress in early child development. In K. McCartney & D. Phillips (Eds.), Blackwell handbook of early childhood development (pp. 106–125). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Keenan, K., & Shaw, D. S. (2003). Exploring the etiology of antisocial behavior in the first years of life. In B. B. Lahey, T. E. Moffitt, & A. Caspi (Eds.), Causes of conduct disorder and juvenile delinquency (pp. 153–181). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  28. Kopp, C. (1982). Antecedents of self–regulation: A developmental perspective. Developmental Psychology, 18, 199–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Moffitt, T. E. (1993). Adolescence-limited and life-course-persistent antisocial behavior: A developmental taxonomy. Psychological Review, 100(4), 674–701.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Moore, G., & Calkins, S. D. (2004). Infants’ vagal regulation in the still-face paradigm is related to dyadic coordination of mother-infant interaction. Developmental Psychology, 40, 1068–1080.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Morris, A., Silk, J., Steinberg, L., Myers, S., & Robinson, L. (2007). The role of the family context in the development of emotion regulation. Social Development, 16, 361–388.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Ochsner, K. N., & Gross, J. J. (2004). Thinking makes it so: A social cognitive neuroscience approach to emotion regulation. In R. F. Baumeister & K. D. Vohs (Eds.), Handbook of self-regulation: Research, theory, and applications (pp. 229–255). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  33. Olweus, D. (1979). Stability of aggressive reactive patterns in males: A review. Psychological Bulletin, 86, 852–875.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Porges, S. W. (1985). Method and apparatus for evaluating rhythmic oscillations in aperiodic physiological response systems. US Patent No. 4520944.Google Scholar
  35. Porges, S. W. (1991). Vagal tone: An autonomic mediator of affect. In J. Garber & K. A. Dodge (Eds.), The development of emotional regulation and dysregulation (pp. 111–128). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Porges, S. W. (1996). Physiological regulation in high-risk infants: A model for assessment and potential intervention. Development and Psychopathology, 8, 43–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Porges, S. W. (2003). The polyvagal theory: Phylogenetic contributions to social behavior. Physiology and Behavior, 79, 503–513.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Porges, S. W. (2007). The polyvagal perspective. Biological Psychology, 74, 116–143.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Porges, S. W., & Byrne, E. A. (1992). Research methods for measurement of heart rate and respiration. Biological Psychology, 34, 93–130.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Posner, M. I., & Rothbart, M. K. (1992). Attentional mechanisms and conscious experience. In D. A. Milner & M. D. Rugg (Eds.), The neuropsychology of consciousness (pp. 91–111). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  41. Posner, M. I., & Rothbart, M. K. (1998). Summary and commentary: Developing attentional skills. In J. E. Richards (Ed.), Cognitive neuroscience of attention: A developmental perspective(pp. 317–323). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  42. Propper, C., & Moore, G. (2006). The influence of parenting on infant emotionality: A multi-level psychobiological perspective. Developmental Review, 26, 427–460.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Propper, C., Moore, G., Mills-Koonce, R., Halpern, C., Hill, A., Calkins, S., et al. (2008). Gene–environment contributions to the development of vagal tone. Child Development, 79, 1378–1395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Sroufe, A. L. (1996). Emotional development: The organization of emotional life in the early years. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Thompson, R. A. (1994). Emotion regulation: A theme in search of definition. In N. A. Fox (Ed.), The development of emotion regulation: Biological and behavioral considerations. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 59, 25–52.Google Scholar
  46. Wachs, T. D. (1999). The what, why, and how of temperament: A piece of the action. In L. Balter & C. S. Tamis-LeMonda (Eds.), Child psychology: A handbook of contemporary issues (pp. 23–44). Philadelphia, PA: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  47. Williford, A. P., Calkins, S. D., & Keane, S. P. (2007). Predicting change in parenting stress across early childhood: Child and maternal factors. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 35, 251–263.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Wilson, B., & Gottman, J. (1996). Attention – the shuttle between emotion and cognition: Risk, resiliency, and physiological bases. In E. Hetherington & E. Blechman (Eds.), Stress, coping and resiliency in children and families. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyThe University of North CarolinaGreensboroUSA

Personalised recommendations