In Brief

A toddler vehemently opposes going to bed. A newborn wails while her mother is cooking dinner. An energetic child seems to want every sweet in the grocery store. For some mothers, such situations can become overwhelmingly stressful, eliciting exaggerated doubts about their ability as mothers or causing them to unrealistically wonder why their children aren't perfect.

A psychologist-led team has put a unique twist on cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to help these moms better manage such situations. The intervention includes the hallmarks of CBT--helping moms identify their negative thoughts and learn how to think more constructively about parenting. The twist is that therapists help mothers identify those thoughts by watching videos of their actual interactions with their children.

Hofstra University psychologist Phyllis Ohr, PhD, and graduate students Dawn Dugan and Hilary Vidair presented the intervention--cognitive-behavioral assessment of stressful interactions with infants and children (C-BASIIC)--at APA's 2005 Annual Convention. The symposium highlighted how videotapes of clients can provide psychologists with unique insights that may assist in clients' assessment, diagnosis and treatment.

In Ohr's studies, a researcher visits participating mothers' homes to videotape 10 minutes of a situation that the mother has identified as repeatedly stressful--such as mealtime or bedtime. Later, the mother watches the tape in 20-second intervals, noting her thoughts at the time. The therapist works with the mother to identify dysfunctional thinking, such as "I am an awful mother," and reframe such thoughts into more constructive language, such as "My son has a hard time taking bath." The mother also learns some active parenting skills, such as offering children a choice.

"If the mother is focused on changing, on being a very active parent, the stress level will be lowered," explained Ohr, "and the mom might think, 'What are some strategies I might use to get my child to stop crying?'"

Though data on the intervention's effectiveness are preliminary, Ohr presented the case of one mother in her study. At first, about 70 percent of the mother's thoughts captured in the 10-minute clip were dysfunctional. After C-BASIIC, about 11 percent of thoughts in a video clip were.

Such reductions not only have positive effects on mothers, said Dugan, but also on their children. She noted that past research links mothers' dysfunctional thoughts with maternal depression and poorer outcomes for infants.