On autonomy support : low-income mothers' parenting of young children in contemporary China and the U.S.
According to self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2002), autonomy is conceptualized as a sense of volition or agency. Much research indicates that parental autonomy support contributes to children’s well-being and academic achievement among middle-class families with school age children or adolescents (Lekes, Gingars, Philippe, Koestner, & Fang, 2010; NICHD, 2004; 2008; Niemiec et al., 2006). Research is scarce in understanding low-income parents’ autonomy support and autonomy restriction behaviors with preschool children. It is also unclear whether and how parents support or restrict children’s autonomy in various caregiving contexts, such as during mealtimes and pre-academic activities. This study helps address this topic via a mixed method design. Scenario-based interviews were conducted with 40 low-income mothers in the U.S. and China (nU.S. = 20, nChina = 20), followed by administration of Perceived Parental Autonomy Support Scale (P-PASS; Mageau et al., 2015). U.S. mothers and Chinese mothers were similar in terms of level of autonomy support and restriction. In addition, both U.S. and Chinese mothers’, levels of autonomy support and restrictions differed across the four caregiving scenarios. The study thus identified how specific caregiving contexts may elicit specific autonomy supportive and autonomy restrictive behaviors by low-income mothers with young children in the U.S. and China.