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This study investigated associations between parenting stress in parents and self-reported stress in children with children's diurnal cortisol secretion and whether these associations are moderated by known stress-regulating capacities, namely child cognitive control. Salivary cortisol concentrations were assessed from awakening to evening on two weekend days from 53 6-to-7-year-old children. Children completed a cognitive control task and a self-report stress questionnaire with an experimenter, while parents completed a parenting stress inventory. Hierarchical, linear mixed effects models revealed that higher parenting stress was associated with overall reduced cortisol secretion in children, and this effect was moderated by cognitive control. Specifically, parenting stress was associated with reduced diurnal cortisol levels in children with lower cognitive control ability and not in children with higher cognitive control ability. There were no effects of self-reported stress in children on their cortisol secretion, presumably because 6-to-7-year-old children cannot yet self-report on stress experiences. Our results suggest that higher cognitive control skills may buffer the effects of parenting stress in parents on their children's stress regulation in middle childhood. This could indicate that training cognitive control skills in early life could be a target to prevent stress-related disorders.
PMID: 29329340 [PubMed - in process]