Date of Completion


Embargo Period


Major Advisor

Dr. JoAnn L. Robinson

Associate Advisor

Dr. Anne F. Farrell

Associate Advisor

Dr. Preston A. Britner

Associate Advisor

Dr. Annamaria Csizmadia

Field of Study

Human Development and Family Studies


Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


Goal-corrected partnership (GCP) is the co-constructed, dyadic process by which parents and children negotiate a balance between children's urges for autonomy and self-assertion with parents' needs to protect by providing limits and sensitivity to children’s goals (Ainsworth, 1985; Kobak et al., 1993; Nucci et al., 1996). Empirical evidence on the emergence and development of GCP is limited. The current study drew from the attachment and parenting literatures to develop and utilize a coding scheme to assess low-income children’s mental representations of GCP. The aims were to describe children’s representations of child-mother negotiations at ages 5 and 7 and to examine whether representations were associated with qualities of mother-child interaction and developmental skills and difficulties. Story stem narrative data from the Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project (n= 106) were utilized. Results indicated there were significant effects of age and gender on representations of GCP. At age 7, children represented give and take negotiations as well as balanced levels of child characters’ self-assertion and mother characters’ limit setting and helping behaviors. Further, girls engaged with the material more frequently and represented more aspects of GCP, particularly at earlier ages. Older children and girls’ narratives were also more coherent and included more mentalization, key components of GCP. Representations of GCP were associated with maternal representations, positive and negative mother-child interactions, and maternal reported discipline. Children’s language and self-regulation abilities, as well as emotional and behavioral difficulties, also were associated with representations of GCP. These findings provide a deeper understanding of children’s awareness and internal working models of mother-child relationships during early childhood. Children’s view of parental support and encouragement for their developing autonomy and capabilities to negotiate around goal attainment may impact their expectations in other social relationships, as well as emotional and behavioral responses to new social encounters. Implications of these findings include interventions aimed at improving the parent-child attachment relationship and children’s skill development.