CDS Observes is a research service unit supporting the use of observational methods for studying parent-child relationships. Collectively, the CDS Observes leadership team has over 50 years of experience studying children and their families, with a focus on developing and refining methods for assessing parent-child relationships (Drs. Martha Cox and Roger Mills-Koonce, Directors; Dr. Nissa Towe-Goodman, Assistant Director, and Dr. Bharathi Zvara, Lead Advisor). Focused on aspects of sensitive support, harsh and controlling behavior, and parent-child relationship quality, these global ratings have been applied across both nationally-representative samples and at-risk populations, including mothers, fathers, and other caregivers.  This research highlights how observations of parents and children can provide a critical window into the ways that socialization and relational processes guide development from infancy and beyond (for select publications and projects utilizing these coding systems, see below).

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The goal of CDS Observes is to provide a resource for scientists hoping to incorporate these methods within their own research in a cost-effective and methodologically rigorous manner. Adequate measurement of parent-child relationships is challenging for many reasons, including the immense investment of time, personnel, and resources needed to develop and apply such theoretically grounded coding systems. CDS Observes provides consultation to scientists within and outside of UNC in the design, collection, and analysis of parent-child interaction protocols, including highly-trained and reliable coding services to assess video recordings of parent-child interactions and the Strange Situation Paradigm.

For more information on the services provided by CDS Observes, please contact Dr. Nissa Towe-Goodman.

Select Research Projects

Select Publications

  • Cox, M. J., Burchinal, M., Taylor, L. C., Frosch, C., Goldman, B., & Kanoy, K. (2004). The transition to parenting: Continuity and change in early parenting behaviors and attitudes. In Conger, R.D. (Ed.), Continuity and change in family relations: Theory, method and empirical findings (pp.201-239). Mahwah, N.J.:  Erlbaum.
  • Mills-Koonce, W. R., Willoughby, M. T., Zvara, B., Barnett, M., Gustafsson, H., Cox, M. J., & the Family Life Project Key Investigators (2015). Direct and indirect effects of mothers’ and fathers’ positive engagement on children’s early cognitive development. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 38, 1-10.
  • Mills-Koonce, W. R., Propper, C. B., Gariepy, J. L., Blair, C., Garrett-Peters, P., & Cox, M. J. (2007). Bidirectional genetic and environmental influences on mother and child behavior: The family system as the unit of analyses. Development and Psychopathology, 19, 1073-1087.
  • Towe-Goodman, N., Willoughby, M., Blair, C., Gustafsson, H., Mills-Koonce, R., Cox, M., & The Family Life Project Key Investigators. (2014). Fathers’ sensitive parenting and the development of early executive functioning. Journal of Family Psychology, 28, 867-876.
  • The Family Life Project Key Investigators (2013). Cumulative risk and its relation to parenting and child outcomes at 36 months. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 78, 66-91.
  • Wang, F., Christ, S. L., Mills-Koonce, W. R., Garrett-Peters, P., & Cox, M. J. (2013). Association between maternal sensitivity and externalizing behavior from preschool to preadolescence. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 34, 89-100.
  • Willoughby, M. T., Mills-Koonce, R., Propper, C. B., & Waschbusch, D. A. (2013). Observed parenting behaviors interact with a polymorphism of the brain-derived neurotrophic factor gene to predict the emergence of oppositional defiant and callous-unemotional behaviors at age 3 years. Development And Psychopathology, 25(4), 903-917.
  • Zvara, B. J., Mills-Koonce, W. R., Garrett-Peters, P., Wagner, N. J., Vernon-Feagans, L., & Cox, M. (2014). The mediating role of parenting in the associations between household chaos and children’s representations of family dysfunction. Attachment & Human Development, 16(6), 633-655.