Mother-Infant Interactions in Early Head Start: A Person-Oriented Within-Ethnic Group Approach

Christy Brady-Smith, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Catherine S. Tamis-LeMonda, Jean M. Ispa, Allison Sidle Fuligni, Rachel Chazan-Cohen, Mark A. Fine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective. This article identifies patterns of mothering in low-income families from three ethnic groups and explores whether those patterns yield similar associations with child outcomes. Design. A person-centered within-group approach was used to examine observed patterns of mothering among European American (n = 740), African American (n = 604), and Mexican American (n = 322) low-income mothers and their 1-year-olds who were participating in the Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project. Cluster analytic techniques were employed using four dimensions of mothering coded from videotapes: supportiveness, directiveness/intrusiveness, negative regard, and detachment. Results. Three similar mothering patterns were seen within each ethnic group: Supportive (48%-52%), Directive (29%-30%), and Detached (14%-19%). Although the patterns of mothering were similar, mean scores on discrete mothering behaviors differed across ethnic groups. A fourth pattern-Harsh-was found among European American and African American mothers and was characterized by high levels of negativity (5%-7%). Associations between mothering patterns and three child outcomes at ages 2 and 3 years (cognitive test score, emotional regulation, and engagement of mother) validated cluster solutions and revealed some variation in prediction across ethnic groups. However, Supportive mothering was optimal in all three ethnic groups. Conclusions. Within-group analyses permitted identification of ethnically meaningful mothering patterns. Across the ethnic groups, within-group structures of mothering were similar with comparable predictive power for child outcomes despite group differences in the magnitudes of mean scores for constructs such as supportiveness and directiveness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)27-43
Number of pages17
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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