Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 202–217 | Cite as

Prospective Associations between Maternal Self-Sacrifice/Overprotection and Child Adjustment: Mediation by Insensitive Parenting

  • Tamar Y. KhafiEmail author
  • Jessica L. Borelli
  • Tuppett M. Yates
Original Paper


Prior research on Expressed Emotion (EE) in parents’ Five Minute Speech Samples (FMSS) suggests that parental attitudes that are overprotective or blur boundaries between the parent and child (i.e., the criteria for self-sacrifice/overprotection; SSOP) are related to increases in children’s behavior problems. Some theorists contend that parents who demonstrate high levels of SSOP treat their children more insensitively, but others argue that SSOP does not result in insensitive parenting during the early childhood years. To date, there is no evidence that can be brought to bear upon this tension within the field regarding the developmental implications of SSOP in childhood. This longitudinal investigation of 223 child-mother dyads (47.9% female; Mage_W1 = 49.08 months; 56.5% Hispanic/Latina) evaluated whether maternal insensitivity at age 6 mediated the link between mothers’ SSOP with respect to their 4-year-old children and children’s behavior problems (i.e., internalizing, attention/hyperactivity) at age 8. A path analysis revealed significant indirect pathways from mothers’ SSOP during the preschool period to children’s increased internalizing and attention/hyperactivity problems at age 8 via elevated maternal insensitivity at age 6. These associations did not differ significantly across groups as a function of child gender, maternal race/ethnicity, single-mother status, or family poverty. FMSS evaluations of SSOP may offer a culturally valid and clinically valuable screening tool to detect parental attitudes that confer elevated risks for insensitive parenting practices and later child adjustment difficulties.


Child behavior problems Expressed emotion Five Minute Speech Sample Insensitive parenting Self-sacrifice/overprotection 



This study was supported by grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (1R03HD065036-01A) and from the National Science Foundation Developmental and Learning Sciences (ID 0951775) to the third author.

Author Contributions

T.Y.K. identified the research question, conducted the analyses, and drafted the initial manuscript; J.L.B. assisted with the theoretical conceptualization of the study and the manuscript preparation and revision; T.M.Y. oversaw the design and implementation of the larger study, assisted with conceptualizing the research question, and collaborated in the manuscript preparation and revision.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. All procedures in this study were approved by the Institutional Review Board of the University of California, Riverside.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of CaliforniaRiversideUSA
  2. 2.Psychology and Social Behavior, School of Social EcologyUniversity of CaliforniaIrvineUSA

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