From External Regulation to Self-Regulation: Early Parenting Precursors of Young Children’s Executive Functioning


  • The research described in this article was supported by grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Fonds Québécois de Recherche sur la Société et la Culture to the first author. We gratefully acknowledge Marie-Pier Nadeau-Noël, Émilie Rochette, Natasha Ballen, Isabelle Demers, Jessica Laranjo, Célia Matte-Gagné, Stéphanie Bordeleau and several other students for help with data collection, as well as Geneviève A. Mageau, George M. Tarabulsy and Chantal Mongeau for substantial intellectual contributions. Special thanks go to the participating families of the Grandir Ensemble project who generously opened their homes to us.

concerning this article should be addressed to Annie Bernier, Department of Psychology, University of Montreal, P.O. Box 6128 Downtown Station, Montreal, QC H3C 3J7, Canada. Electronic mail may be sent to


In keeping with proposals emphasizing the role of early experience in infant brain development, this study investigated the prospective links between quality of parent–infant interactions and subsequent child executive functioning (EF), including working memory, impulse control, and set shifting. Maternal sensitivity, mind-mindedness and autonomy support were assessed when children were 12 to 15 months old (= 80). Child EF was assessed at 18 and 26 months. All three parenting dimensions were found to relate to child EF. Autonomy support was the strongest predictor of EF at each age, independent of general cognitive ability and maternal education. These findings add to previous results on child stress-response systems in suggesting that parent–child relationships may play an important role in children’s developing self-regulatory capacities.