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Applying a Momentary Parenting Goal-Regulation Model to Discipline Episodes with Toddlers



The purpose of this study is to explore how momentary parenting goals vary by discipline episode-related factors, including type of child noncompliance, mothers’ attributions, maternal negative affect, episode duration, and disciplinary practices used.


This is a study of 105 mothers and their 17- to 31-month-old toddlers. Most mothers were interviewed first at the university laboratory and then by phone as soon as possible thereafter. They reported details of four turn-by-turn discipline episodes with their toddlers and then described their momentary parenting goals, attributions, and negative affect for each episode.


Whether parenting goals were child- or parent-centered or were short- or long-term was rarely consistent across all four episodes and changed within 26% of the episodes. Changes in goals were more likely during long episodes, in response to whining or tantrums, when mothers were upset emotionally, and when they reported a combination of both dispositional and situational attributions during the episode. Mothers’ dispositional attributions predicted child-centered and long-term goals. Those goals, in turn, predicted increased use of reasoning and less use of physical power assertion and giving in. Child-centered goals also predicted less use of bribes/rewards and ignoring. Maternal negative affect was unrelated to momentary goal types. Hitting and passive noncompliance were marginally associated with child-centered and long-term goals.


The results in this exploratory study provide initial evidence about some antecedents and consequences of momentary parenting goals, which often change across and within discipline episodes with toddlers.

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Author contributions

K.R. & R.L.: designed the protocol based on KR’s 1999 publication, adding the interview questions about goals, attributions, and negative emotions during each reported discipline episode. H.L.: designed this particular study of episode characteristics associated with momentary parenting goals. H.L.: did all of the analyses for this study, under the supervision of R.L. H.L. & R.L.: Coded the open-ended responses about how & why mothers changed their goals during an episode. H.L.: Wrote the first draft of the study. K.R. & R.L.: Had major roles in revising the paper, especially in response to the reviewers’ critiques.


This research was supported in part by funding from 25 individuals through The Counsellor Foundation and the Narramore Christian Foundation.

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Correspondence to Robert E. Larzelere.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Lin, H., Ritchie, K.L. & Larzelere, R.E. Applying a Momentary Parenting Goal-Regulation Model to Discipline Episodes with Toddlers. J Child Fam Stud 29, 1055–1069 (2020).

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  • Momentary parenting goals
  • Child noncompliance
  • Parenting
  • Toddlers
  • Discipline episodes