This study examined developmental trajectories of maternal sensitivity across early childhood and explored whether changes in sensitivity were predicted by changes in interparental conflict.
Maternal sensitivity facilitates healthy child development. Previous research has elucidated the role of interparental conflict as a determinant of sensitivity, but we know little about the trajectory of sensitivity across early childhood and the extent to which interparental conflict over time impacts sensitivity.
Mothers (n = 78) and their children were visited at the playground four times across early childhood (child age: 3.5 to 5.5 years). Observers reported on maternal sensitivity after each visit. Interparental conflict was self-reported by mothers twice when their child was approximately 3.5 and 5 years old.
On average, both conflict and sensitivity showed continuity across early childhood. However, hierarchical linear modeling indicated significant variability in trajectories of change in sensitivity based upon frequency of interparental conflict.
Although interparental conflict was relatively low at both times, mothers reporting increased conflict showed decreased sensitivity as their child aged.
Findings underscore the importance of studying mother–child relationships within the larger familial context and provide support for the playground as an ecologically valid context to assess sensitivity.