Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Child and Family Studies

Major Professor

Hillary Fouts

Committee Members

Rena Hallam, Mary Jane Moran


The current study describes the directive behaviors of seven mothers with their toddlers ranging in age from 12 to 35 months throughout the day. This study explores the behaviors of a sample with lower socioeconomic status without the use of unnatural measures or artificial environments that may enhance the likelihood of observing atypical behaviors and perhaps perpetuate a deficit-based interpretation of the poverty context. Nine hours of observation for each dyad were collected as part of a larger study concerning the daily experiences of toddlers with the exception of one participant who dropped out of the study after three hours of observation. The current study analyzed maternal behaviors while the mother was present with her toddler and the toddler was awake. Observations used in the current analysis lasted between 90 to 450 minutes for each participant. The importance of the extended observational protocol used in the current study was specifically investigated by comparing parenting behaviors that occurred during the first 45 minutes of observation to those which occurred during subsequent observational segments. This study also explored a more complete conception of directiveness in a lower socioeconomic context by defining two separate variables for responsive and adultinitiated directiveness. The situational contexts that influence mothers’ directive behaviors were then examined. The results of the current study suggest that when mothers with lower socioeconomic status are observed for an extended amount of time they vary greatly in the amount of directiveness that they use with their children. These directive behaviors occurred at a much higher rate during the first segment of time mothers were observed. Directive behaviors did not cluster as either adult-initiated or responsive as expected. Rather, directive behaviors clustered according to the contexts of caregiving or play interactions. Only three toddlers engaged in any structured activities while in the care of their mothers. Results of the current study challenge the methodology used in previous research that has resulted in the wide spread stereotype of parents with lower socioeconomic status parenting in a harsh and deficient manner. Implications for family functioning assessment and intervention are also discussed.

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