Parental scaffolding, or parenting behaviors that support children’s independence and competence, can foster children’s self-regulation development. Children facing higher cumulative risk may experience less scaffolding and more directives from parents, but it is unclear how cumulative risk affects the dynamics of parent–child interactions in real time. We examined the role of cumulative risk in mothers’ moment-to-moment use of scaffolding and directives in response to preschoolers’ off- and on-task behaviors (N = 117). Mothers answered questionnaires about cumulative risk at child age 2.5 years and completed a challenging puzzle task with their preschoolers at age 3 years. Continuous-time multilevel survival analyses revealed differences by cumulative risk in the likelihood of mothers’ parenting responses following children’s off- and on-task behavioral transitions over the course of the interaction. Specifically, when children went off-task, higher cumulative risk was associated with a lower likelihood of maternal scaffolding, but a comparable likelihood of directives, compared to lower risk mothers. When children got on-task, mothers with higher cumulative risk were less likely to respond with scaffolding and more likely to respond with directives than lower risk mothers. These results suggest that parents at higher risk respond with less scaffolding regardless of child behavior and respond with more directive commands when they may be unnecessary. Findings provide novel, real-time descriptive information about how and when parents experiencing cumulative risk use scaffolding and directive strategies, thus informing microlevel targets for intervention. Implications for the development of self-regulation in children at risk are discussed.
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