Multisystem Resilience From Early Childhood Psychopathology for Children Experiencing Poverty

A child’s mental health relies on a network of interacting systems both within and outside of the developing child. Positive and negative influences accumulate and dynamically interact to shape lifelong trajectories of mental health. Further, children’s life long mental health trajectories may be particularly sensitive to experiences in early childhood. I study how multiple systems (biological, behavioral, relational, and socio-ecological) work to buffer against the detrimental effects of early childhood experiences of poverty and related adversities (e.g. maltreatment, family illness, family incarceration, etc.) on child mental health.

Below are descriptions of my areas of focus.


Parenting is a complex undertaking that requires parents to be talented “multitaskers” with multiple complex skills. This includes everything from providing children with basic bodily nourishment and a buffer from stressful experiences to transmitting cultural beliefs and practices. Parenting is one of the most robust predictors of children’s adaptive outcomes when they have experienced adverse events and/or harsh chronic circumstances.

Physiological Self-Regulation

The parasympathetic nervous system has a role in promoting “rest and digest” physiological functions in people, and plays an important role in self-regulation and social engagement. This systems is thought to develop rapidly in early childhood, and be influenced by environmental/social processes. New research and theory suggests that measures of parasympathetic functioning (via Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia; RSA) may be a biological indicator of an individual’s capacity to adapt in stressful environments.

Emotion Regulation

Emotion regulation is important for both child and parent functioning. The ability to regulate emotions is instrumental in attaining intrapersonal, interpersonal, and greater social goals. Infants and young children are dependent on caregivers to help them regulate their emotions. During this time children develop skills to self-soothe and regulate without total reliance on others. However, the experience of emotions and their expression continue to develop into adulthood and represent both an inter-individual and intra-individual process across the lifespan.

Housing Supports

Throughout the United States, nearly half a million families stayed in a homeless shelter in 2016 and nearly 300,000 of those individuals were children. Children and adults who experience homelessness and high mobility are at substantially increased risk for a multitude of maladaptive outcomes including increased physical and mental health problems. Providing monetary housing supports may be a socio-ecological intervention that can have cascading effects to better the functioning of all family members.