Abstract A pilot study was conducted to test methods and measures used to assess factors related to stress and coping in high-risk mothers and their effect on parenting. Twenty mothers with 12-month-old toddlers were recruited from a WIC population; they came into an observational laboratory where they were interviewed about stressors in their lives and their symptoms of stress and were videotaped interacting with their children. Maternal difficult life circumstances, psychiatric-mental health symptoms, education, maternal experiences in their families of origin, and parenting stress explained 74% of the variance in maternal sensitive-responsiveness with their toddlers in the laboratory setting. The findings support the methods of the study. Clinical implications and implications for future research to assist in the development of interventions for this population are discussed. Increased attention to screening for maternal psychiatric-mental health symptoms and for negative experiences in mothers' families of origin may provide important opportunities for intervention with these mothers.