Dr. Nuttall’s program of research broadly focuses on understanding how children and families cope with stress in the family system and how these experiences shape development across the lifespan. She is particularly interested in the impact of parenting, including family relationships and roles (e.g., generational boundary dissolution, role reversal parentification, triangulation) and parent-child communication (e.g., emotional reminiscing), on child developmental processes of risk and resilience. Guided by a developmental psychopathology perspective, she studies family relationships and development in a variety of stress contexts, including both normative and severe stressors (e.g., interparental conflict, sibling with a disability, childhood bereavement, child maltreatment, parental psychopathology). She also examines the impact of these childhood experiences on relationships in adulthood, including early parenting during the transition to parenthood and the intergenerational transmission of parenting. With a particular emphasis on identifying adaptive processes and resilience, Dr. Nuttall conducts process-oriented basic research with the goal of informing preventive interventions aimed at supporting positive outcomes for children, siblings, and parents.
Dr. Nuttall has published in top journals in developmental, clinical, and quantitative psychology. Dr. Nuttall is a consulting editor for the Journal of Family Psychology, the American Psychological Association’s journal for family research.
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Writing and Editing
Areas of Expertise (5)
University of Notre Dame: Ph.D., Developmental Psychology
University of Notre Dame: M.A., Psychology
University of Colorado: B.A., Psychology
- Journal of Family Psychology : Consulting Editor
Parental expectations are healthy for kids, just don't overdo it
WLNS 6 online
Research by the American Psychological Association shows high parental expectations are linked with high academic achievement, but setting expectations too high is counterproductive says Amy Nuttall, an assistant professor in Human Development and Family Studies at MSU. "There is a delicate balance between having too many expectations and too little expectations."
When Kids Have to Act Like Parents, It Affects Them for Life
The Atlantic online
“We know that siblings can buffer each other from the impacts of stressful relationships with parents,” said Amy K. Nuttall, an assistant professor in human development and family studies at Michigan State University. This may account for why some parentified siblings who come from abusive homes end up maintaining close, albeit complex, bonds into adulthood, with some “continuing to attempt to fill parental needs at the expense of their own.” Still, Nuttall adds, others may distance themselves from their families altogether in order to escape the role.
Children as Caregivers
Inside Higher Ed online
Overburdening children with caregiving responsibilities can have negative affects in adulthood. In today's Academic Minute, Michigan State University's Amy Nuttall describes her research in this area. Nuttall is an assistant professor in Michigan State's department of human development and family studies. A transcript of this podcast can be found here.
Kids With Too Many Duties Grow Up to Be Reluctant Parents
TIME Magazine online
“If your childhood was defined by parents expecting you to perform too much caregiving without giving you the chance to develop your own self-identity, that might lead to confusion about appropriate expectations for children and less accurate knowledge of their developmental limitations and needs as infants,” said Amy K. Nuttall, assistant professor in MSU’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies and lead author on the study, in a release.
MSU study encourages letting kids be kids
A new Michigan State University study indicates that women who were expected to take on responsibilities beyond their years as children are less likely to be sensitive to their own children’s needs. The study is online now and will be published in the Journal of Family Psychology. Current State’s Melissa Benmark talks with the study's author, Dr. Amy Nuttall. She’s an Assistant Professor in the Department of Human Development & Family Studies at MSU.
Your childhood responsibilities may determine what kind of parent you become
The team, led by behavioral psychologist Amy Nuttall at Michigan State University, studied 374 low-income new mothers, who reported having been treated as adults too early in life. According to the report, this experience, called “parentification” in psychology, is one in which a “parent turns to the child for nurturance or support, and overburdens a child with the responsibility of protecting and sustaining parents, siblings, and the family system.”
Kids Allowed to Be Kids Make Better Parents
Michigan State University online
A previous study led by Nuttall, which also appeared in the Journal of Family Psychology, found the children of mothers who engaged in excessive caregiving during childhood went on to display behavioral problems. Together, the studies have important implications for developing parent-education programs for mothers who were overburdened by caregiving roles in childhood. Nuttall said instruction about infant development might be best served in prenatal classes. Women are more likely to attend prenatal classes than parenting classes offered after birth. “Prenatal parenting classes may be particularly useful for teaching accurate knowledge of child development and appropriate expectations about children’s abilities even before mothers give birth and begin parenting,” Nuttall said.
Journal Articles (4)
Interpersonal violence during pregnancy: Enduring effects in the post-partum period and implications for the intergenerational transmission of riskInternational Journal of Behavioral Development
2018 Women are at greater risk of exposure to interpersonal violence during pregnancy. The influence prenatal violence has on children’s behavioral adjustment is generally understood to stem from its impact on mothers, but there is a dearth of prospective research to test these models. The current study evaluated the influence of interpersonal violence during pregnancy on children’s behavioral adjustment in toddlerhood through the mother’s mental health and parenting in infancy.
Childhood Caregiving Roles, Perceptions of Benefits, and Future Caregiving Intentions Among Typically Developing Adult Siblings of Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder.J Autism Dev Disord
2018 Typically developing siblings (TDS) of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) frequently serve as caregivers during childhood, known as parentification, and primary caregivers for siblings in adulthood. In order to evaluate mechanisms linking these roles, we surveyed emerging-adult TDS (N = 108) about childhood parentification roles caring for parents and siblings, current perceptions of benefits associated with ASD and with engaging in parentification, and intention to provide future caregiving.
Maternal history of parentification and warm responsiveness: The mediating role of knowledge of infant development.Journal of Family Psychology
2015 Maternal history of parentification in the family of origin poses subsequent risk to parenting quality during the transition to parenthood. The present study builds on prior work by evaluating whether the association between maternal parentification history and warm responsiveness is mediated by maternal knowledge of infant development in first time mothers. Using data from a prospective longitudinal study on the transition to motherhood, maternal knowledge of infant development and observational codings of warm responsiveness were examined across the first 18 months of parenthood for 374 mothers who also provided retrospective reports of their childhood parentification experiences.
Maternal history of parentification, maternal warm responsiveness, and children's externalizing behaviorJournal of Family Psychology
2012 Destructive parentification occurs when children are expected to provide instrumental or emotional caregiving within the family system that overtaxes their developmental capacity. According to parentification theory, destructive parentification in family of origin poses a risk to child development in subsequent generations; however, there is a paucity of empirical research examining the impact of a maternal history of destructive parentification on parenting quality and child outcomes in subsequent generations.