Research Activity

Ongoing Projects

The Arrival of the Second Born

This study examines how the birth of the second child in the family is related to changes in the family, and in the older sibling’s functioning. We measure these changes among families experiencing different levels of chronic stress due to their residence area, focusing on families living in Gazza vicinity, an armed-conflict zone, and the Be’er Sheva area. In this study, we examine different variables related to parental, child, and environment characteristics, aiming to identify risk and resilience factors that can inform mental health professionals in guiding parents raising children in these areas.

DUET Reflective Parenting Program Among Parents and Educators in the Negev

The aim of this project is to enhance reflective functioning among Israeli caregivers (parents and child-care providers “metaplot”). We conduct workshops designed to enhance caregivers’ abilities to understand their children or the children they care for; these workshops also help caregivers develop efficient coping skills in day-to-day situations, such as dealing with a child’s difficult behavior, separation, conflicts, or trauma. We focus on increasing confidence in parenting/ caregiving and strengthening caregiver-child relationships. The groups are based on the Reflective Parenting Program developed at the Center for Reflective Community in Los Angeles, CA (USA). Assessments take place before, during, and after the intervention. We are interested in examining the change in parents’/metaplot’s reflective functioning, their sense of competence as childcare-providers, and their levels of stress and well-being. In addition, we examine changes in child behaviors and in the caregiver-child relationship.

The Contribution of Self-regulatory Capacities to the Ability to Understand the Child’s Mind: The Link between Parental Mentalization and Executive Functions

Parental mentalization refers to parents’ ability to reflect on their child’s mental states and on their relationship with their child, while regarding their child as an independent psychological agent. This parental capacity is highly related to the quality of the parent-child relationship and children’s cognitive and socioemotional development. Although this capacity has been studied extensively, little is known about the cognitive basis of parental mentalization – what are the cognitive processes underlying parents’ ability to represent their child’s mind? In two studies, we examine the role of executive functions (EFs), general-purpose processes that enable goal-directed behavior, including working memory, inhibition, and task-set shifting, in parental mentalization. These studies are being conducted in collaboration with Dr. Yoav Kessler and his Working Memory lab at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Associations Between Parental Mentalization Measures and Parents’ Executive Functions among Parents of Children Born Pre- and Full-term. We examine the role of EFs in parental mentalization in a sample of families participating in the Preterm
Early Development Study (PEDS), in which we follow families of children born pre- and full-term from birth to preschool, in four time-points: birth, 6 months, 12 months and 66 months (corrected age in the preterm group). As part of this study, we examine the association between parents’ EFs (collected using computerized cognitive tasks, such as the n-back task) and two age-appropriate measures of parental mentalization in two different time-points: interactional mind-mindedness at the age of 6 months, and parental reflective functioning (as assessed via the Parent Development Interview) at the age of 66 months. We also examine whether and how other child-related variables modulate these links. It should be noted that as part of the Preterm Early Development Study (PEDS), we also examine the process by which infant characteristics (e.g., temperament), parental characteristics (e.g., emotional distress) and the quality of the parent-child relationship (e.g., mother-child, father-child, and mother-father-child interactions) act together in predicting developmental outcomes at ages 12 months and 66 months, including cognitive and social development. We have recently finished collecting data of the last time-point, and are currently coding materials at the lab.

Mental-event Segmentation: How do Parents Track Infants’ MentalStates? As part of the PEDS, we found an association between mothers’ working memory updating ability and their appropriate mentalization (measured using the interactional mind-mindedness coding system): mothers who had higher working memory updating abilities made more appropriate mind-related comments when interacting with their infant (at 6 months). Working memory updating enables one to track relevant information in the environment. When encountering an ongoing stream of information, working is used for event segmentation (e.g., Kurby & Zacks, 2008) – the division of what is happening into meaningful units. Updating of the content of working memory is required during event boundaries, when one event has ended and another one begins.

We are currently starting a new project designed to examine whether working memory updating’s role in parental mentalization is through event-segmentation, and specifically – whether parents with high updating abilities tend to segment their infant’s behavior in terms of underlying mental states.

Early Feeding Disorders Study: Parent-Child Relationships in Families having Children with Feeding Problems

This study focused on characteristics of the parent-child relationship that distinguish between families having children with feeding problems (failure to thrive) and families of typically developing children. In the first phase of the study, which was conducted during infancy (ages 1-3 years), families were visited at their homes, where parent-child interactions were videotaped during playtime and mealtime (with both mothers and fathers), and parents were interviewed and completed questionnaires. We found that mothers and fathers of children with feeding problems experienced less positive interactions with their children, compared to parents of typically-developing children. Importantly, paternal involvement in childrearing was found to modulate paternal sensitivity during feedings among fathers in the feeding problems group. Specifically, while mothers tended to have a higher sensitivity to children’s cues during mealtimes than fathers, fathers who were more involved in childcare activities did not differ from mothers in their sensitivity to cues during feeding. This finding highlights the importance of paternal involvement among families having children with feeding problems. In addition, we also examined the role of maternal worries about child underweight. We found that maternal worries about underweight partially explained the link between feeding problems and negative mother-child interactions. Moreover, lower levels of worries were identified as a resilience factor for mother-child relationships among families having children with feeding problems: when the mother was less worried about her child being underweight, the mother-child interaction tended to be as positive as interactions in families of typically-developing children; however, when the mother had higher levels of worry, the mother-child interaction tended to be more negative.

In the second phase of the study, we followed-up on these families 8-11 years later, during adolescence. We aimed to examine the long-term effect of early feeding problems in infancy, and identify risk and resilience processes among these children. We specifically focused on parent-child relationship in infancy and adolescence, as the development of eating disorders and negative body image in adolescence. Parents (both mothers and fathers) and children were all interviewed and asked to complete questionnaires, in order to capture the points of view of both parents and children. We are currently working on coding and processing these data at the Child Development and Family Relationships lab.

The Associations between Maternal Emotional Distress Following Birth, Mother-infant Relationship and Infant Development in the First Year of Life Among Bedouin Mothers in Southern Israel

This study examines the links between postpartum anxiety and depression among Bedouin mothers and subsequent mother-infant interactions and infant cognitive and social development. The aim of the study is to identify risk and resilience factor at the basis of mother-infant bond in the Bedouin community. Mothers were recruited in Soroka Medical Center following birth, in two groups: mothers who delivered at term (maternity ward) and mothers who gave birth preterm (NICU; gestational age: 28-34 weeks). Mothers reported on their emotional distress, social support, and acculturation style. Next, mothers and infants were followed up when infants were 6 and 12 months old (corrected for prematurity in the preterm group), during check up at local child clinics in Bedouin villages; mother-infant interactions and child temperament were assessed at both time points, as well as changes in measured collected at birth. In addition, at 12 months, children completed developmental assessments examining their social and cognitive skills.

Completed Projects

The Preterm Early Development Study

This longitudinal study followed the early development of infants born prematurely at low medical risk, including moderately preterm (gestational age 28-33 weeks) and near-term (gestational age 34-36 weeks) infants as well as a comparison group of healthy infants born at full-term. The study examined the process by which infant characteristics (e.g., temperament), parental characteristics (e.g., emotional distress) and the quality of the parent-child relationship (e.g., mother-child, father-child, and mother-father-child interactions) act together in predicting developmental outcomes at age 12 months, including cognitive and social development. Families of new born infants were recruited to the study shortly after birth, and 2 home visits were conducted at 6 and 12 months of infants’ age.

Parenting and Stress in Mothers and Fathers of Children with Developmental Delay

The aim of this study was to reveal the intricate connections in which family, parent and child risk factors predict parental behavior in families of children with developmental delay (DD) compared to families of typically developed (TD) children. Specific attention was given to the mediating role parental stress has on these associations. Therefore, a conceptual model was proposed and examined, describing the effects of risk factors on stress and parenting of children with DD compared to parenting of TD children. Within the specific stressors of the DD group a focused observation was directed at the parents’ reaction to their child’s diagnosis of DD. As this was the first study to examine parents’ resolution with a child’s diagnosis of DD, we initially aimed to deter- mine differences between mothers’ and fathers’ resolution styles, and focused on links to various demographic variables. Our eventual goal was to investigate the links between parental resolution, stress and parenting in different family risk circumstances.

The Adjustment of Children from the Former Soviet Union (FSU) Living in Israel

The gap between the large numbers of immigrants around the world and the very few studies on the adjustment of their children is striking. We conducted two studies (preschool adjustment study, and adjustment of school aged children) examining parenting and children’s adjustment among native Israeli families and families from the former Soviet Union (FSU), all living in the South of Israel.

1. Preschool Adjustment Study

This study aimed to investigate, for the first time, the psychological adjustment of ethnic-minority (FSU) and ethnic-majority (Native Israeli) children living in Israel at an early age, during the pre-school years. Risk factors for problem behavior in these children were identified and differences in children’s adjustment according to parental acculturation style within the FSU families were studied. 145 children aged 4 to 6 years and their parents and teachers participated in the study.

2. The Adjustment of School-aged Children from the FSU

This study aimed to examine the adjustment of young second-generation children from immigrant families (FSU) living in their country of settlement (Israel). In particular, we were interested to examine how children’s and parents’ perception of parental behaviours and their cultural normativeness moderate the links between

parental practices and children’s adjustment. Furthermore, as certain cultures emphasize and give more atten- tion to distinct domains as significant to children’s development (e.g., academic achievement), we proposed that these links may vary also in the specific domain in which the child’s misbehavior occurs. 140 families from the FSU and native Israeli families participated in the study. Children’s age ranged between 7-9 years old.

In Search of “the Bedouin Adaptive Adult”: Developmental Goals of Mothers and Fathers from the Bedouin Society of the Negev

The Bedouins of the Negev are a distinguished minority group in the Israeli society. They live in the south region of Israel and are known to be a formerly-nomadic society. This study investigated parenting and child development from the Bedouin-cultural perspective. The “adaptive adult”, a term describing the images parents have of the adults they wish their children would become (Roer-Strier & Rosenthal, 2001), was found to be related to parenting and child’s behavior. Guided by this idea, this study sought to explore the adaptive adult among the Bedouin population in the Negev. Applying both quantitative and qualitative means, we explored the images of adaptive adult, while examining the eco-cultural factors that may be related to these images; specifically we examined how different variables, such as child gender, parental level of education, place of settlement (Bedouin towns vs. rural villages) and parental acculturation style, were related to the adaptive adult images of Bedouin mothers and fathers.