In family psychology, the term flooding refers to the feeling of being overwhelmed by a family member's behavior in a manner that undermines an organized response. In the present investigation we first aimed to clarify the role of flooding in overreactive and lax discipline. The second study aim was to more fully establish the position of parental flooding in its nomological network given the relative paucity of research on parental flooding. Maternal discipline and physiological responses, as well as child behavior, were observed in laboratory discipline encounters with 97 mother-toddler dyads. Mothers then rated the extent to which they experienced flooding in response to their children's behavior and emotion displays during the immediately preceding discipline encounters. Mothers' experience of negative emotion was assessed via video-mediated recall. Flooding was positively associated with both overreactive and lax discipline; this association did not reflect confounding by mothers' experience of negative emotion. Flooding was further associated with mothers' experienced negative emotion and heart rate reactivity, as well as child misbehavior and negative emotion displays. The flooding-overreactive discipline association was concentrated in those mothers who exhibited greater increases in heart rate and greater vagal withdrawal, and whose children misbehaved more during the discipline encounter. The present results suggest the incremental validity of flooding in predicting discipline practices, as well as the strong fit of flooding in its nomological network. Parents' self-recognition of flooding may ultimately prove useful in parenting interventions as a signal to trigger compensatory techniques.
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