The Validation of Macro and Micro Observations of Parent–Child Dynamics Using the Relationship Affect Coding System in Early Childhood


This study examined the validity of micro social observations and macro ratings of parent–child interaction in early to middle childhood. Seven hundred and thirty-one families representing multiple ethnic groups were recruited and screened as at risk in the context of Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) Nutritional Supplement service settings. Families were randomly assigned to the Family Checkup (FCU) intervention or the control condition at age 2 and videotaped in structured interactions in the home at ages 2, 3, 4, and 5. Parent–child interaction videotapes were microcoded using the Relationship Affect Coding System (RACS) that captures the duration of two mutual dyadic states: positive engagement and coercion. Macro ratings of parenting skills were collected after coding the videotapes to assess parent use of positive behavior support and limit setting skills (or lack thereof). Confirmatory factor analyses revealed that the measurement model of macro ratings of limit setting and positive behavior support was not supported by the data, and thus, were excluded from further analyses. However, there was moderate stability in the families’ micro social dynamics across early childhood and it showed significant improvements as a function of random assignment to the FCU. Moreover, parent–child dynamics were predictive of chronic behavior problems as rated by parents in middle childhood, but not emotional problems. We conclude with a discussion of the validity of the RACS and on methodological advantages of micro social coding over the statistical limitations of macro rating observations. Future directions are discussed for observation research in prevention science.



Early childhood, Parent, child interaction, Parenting skills, Problem behavior, Middle childhood


Copyright 2017 Prevention Science. This is a post-print version of a published paper that is available at: Recommended citation: Dishion, Thomas J., Chung Jung Mun, Jenn-Yun Tein, Hanjoe Kim, Daniel S. Shaw, Frances Gardner, Melvin N. Wilson, and Jenene Peterson. "The Validation of Macro and Micro Observations of Parent–Child Dynamics Using the Relationship Affect Coding System in Early Childhood." Prevention science: the official journal of the Society for Prevention Research 18, no. 3 (2017): 268. DOI: 10.1007/s11121-016-0697-5 This item has been deposited in accordance with publisher copyright and licensing terms and with the author’s permission.