Autonomy support in toddlerhood: similarities and contrasts between mothers and fathers

Claire Hughes, Anja Lindberg, Rory T. Devine

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11 Citations (Scopus)
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Infant exploration often hinges on parental autonomy support (i.e., parental behaviours that support children’s goals, interests and choices), a construct that is widely applied in family studies of school-aged children and adolescents but less studied in infants and toddlers. Notable gaps concern the equivalence, similarities and contrasts between mothers’ and fathers’ autonomy support and the correlates of individual differences in autonomy support. To address these under-researched topics, we conducted parallel home-based structured play observations of 195 infants (MAge = 14.42 months, SD = 0.59 months) in dyadic interaction with mother and father. Confirmatory factor analyses demonstrated measurement invariance across parent gender, enabling comparisons that revealed significantly moderately higher levels of autonomy support in mothers than in fathers. Individual differences in autonomy support were unrelated to either parental personality or child temperament, highlighting the potential importance of dyadic characteristics. Consistent with this view, while maternal autonomy support did not differ by child gender, fathers with sons displayed less autonomy support than did fathers with daughters.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)915-925
JournalJournal of Family Psychology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018


  • parental autonomy support
  • infants
  • Measurement invariance
  • parent / child gender


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