Parenting Behaviors of Mothers With Posttraumatic Stress: The Roles of Cortisol Reactivity and Negative Emotion

Molly R. Franz, Shaina A. Kumar, Rebecca L. Brock, Jessica L. Calvi, David DiLillo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Although posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is associated with negative family outcomes, including parenting challenges, little is known about the biological and emotional processes that might underlie this association. The present project addressed this gap by examining associations between maternal PTSD and parenting behaviors in a lab setting. We expected that PTSD would be associated with more ineffective parenting behaviors and that negative emotion and cortisol reactivity would mediate this relation. A total of 78 mothers and their toddler-aged children completed a task designed to elicit parental responses to typical instances of child misbehavior. Salivary cortisol was collected from mothers prior and subsequent to the lab paradigm and mothers provided ratings of their experienced emotion while viewing a video of the interaction. Contrary to hypotheses, cortisol reactivity did not mediate associations between PTSD and parenting. However, findings suggest that PTSD is associated with greater permissive parenting behaviors, and mothers with even subthreshold symptoms of PTSD may experience more negative emotion during challenging parent–child interactions that ultimately interferes with parenting. Mothers with PTSD may benefit from interventions that focus on modifying the intensity of their negative emotions in the context of child misbehavior to more effectively set limits in everyday discipline encounters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)130-139
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Family Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022


  • Cortisol reactivity
  • Emotional reactivity
  • Observational
  • Parenting
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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