• The Pitt Parents and Children Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh gives families tools to help prevent vulnerable children from engaging in detrimental behaviors

Pitt Parents and Children Lab at the University of Pittsburgh have found that providing parents with one positive parenting intervention can lead to fewer destructive behaviors even a decade later. Parental stress and depression is closely associated with poor childhood outcomes.

Daniel Shaw, PhD and his team work together to observe family dynamics in relatively informal settings, beginning in family’s homes. Shaw’s team also observes children in environments they spend more time in with age, including their neighborhoods, schools and after-school activities. They then break down how specific behaviors lead to serious conduct problems that could result in drug use, criminal behavior and other negative outcomes. The researchers then teach moms, dads and other family caregivers positive parenting behaviors and help them connect with their children.

Helping Parents

The first large project that Shaw and his team conducted was the Pitt Mother and Child Project. The project identified factors associated with resiliency and vulnerability among

low-income boys in the Pittsburgh area. Shaw and his team identified several factors associated with resilience, including child intelligence, child nighttime sleep, child observed likability and mother-reported emotionality and sociability. They also found that those factors were less protective for children living in particularly high-risk neighborhoods. In addition, the team identified precursors of future conduct problems, including child fearlessness, child hyperactivity, child noncompliance, maternal depression, maternal rejection of parenting and sibling conflict.

In the Real World

Lastly, Shaw and his team have now launched the Center for Parents and Children, where they are collaborating with community agencies that serve young children and families to implement their interventions. The center will work with Head Start programs and Head Start teachers will refer at-risk families to lab members, who will then observe the child in the classroom and meet with the child’s parents in their homes to perform the Family Check-Up.


Palmer, C. (2018). “Catching Kids Early.” Vol. 49. No. 8. Pg. 64. American Psychological Association.