Family Resilience and Well-being

We are conducting a new study on family resilience and well-being. Our research aims to uncover the different ways that parents and children respond to the inevitable challenges of life. We know that different strategies work for different people in different contexts. So, rather than identifying the way families should be resilient, our study aims to identify how different ways of feeling, thinking and behaving work for different parents, children and contexts. And, because families are so important, our study is looking at what parents do, what children do, and what parents and children do together that fosters resilience and well-being.

This research is being conducted as part of a collaboration between the ELLA Early Learning Lab, led by Dr Annette Henderson and the REACH Relationship Lab, led by Associate Professor Nickola Overall. This project will involve over 250 families, and track parents and children’s health and well-being across time.



We are looking for families to participate in this research, including both parents and their children aged between 4-5 years. Families must be living together, and participation will involve two research sessions:

Phase 1: The first phase will take place when your child is 4-5 years old. Participation will involve both parents completing an online questionnaire, and then families attending a lab-based session at the University of Auckland. Families will receive $180 for their time.

Phase 2: The second phase will occur one year later. Parents will complete an online questionnaire, and one parent and their child will attend a lab-based session. Families will receive $120 for their time.

We know families are busy. To accommodate your schedule, we can run research sessions throughout the week, including evenings and weekends. If you are interested in participating, or want to hear more about what’s involved, send an email to for more information.

You are eligible to participate in this study if:

  • – You and/or your partner have a child aged between 4-5 years old
  • – You and your partner are living with your child
  • – You have been living with your partner for at least 1 year
  • – English is your family’s main language of communication
  • – Your child does not have a diagnosed social or cognitive impairment

To participate or find out more, simply register your interest here or send an email to and answer the following questions:

  1. – What is your child’s birth date and gender?
  2. – How long have you been living with your current partner?
  3. – Does your child live with you and your current partner?
  4. – Do you and your family speak English at home?


How and why do infants and young children cooperate?

Much of our everyday functioning relies on the ability to successfully cooperate with each other. For instance, something as simple as buying groceries relies on the cooperation of many individuals (e.g., farmers, grocers, cashiers, etc.). In addition to being an important part of our everyday lives, cooperation plays an important role in children’s social and cognitive development. We know that children understand and engage in cooperative activities early in their lives, however, much less is known about the factors that shape the development of cooperation in early childhood.

We are currently conducting several studies examining how early parent-infant interactions, culture, biology, and other factors influence the development of cooperation in infants and young children. This work is funded by the Royal Society of New Zealand’s Marsden Fund and a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship awarded to Dr. Annette Henderson.


Investigating the development of the cooperative nature of language

Successful communication requires cooperation in a number of ways. Speakers must use words that are likely to be known by listeners. Listeners must give the speaker the opportunity to communicate and provide signals if they are not understanding what the speaker is intending to communicate.

We are currently conducting several studies examining the development of the cooperative nature of language and how this understanding influences children’s language development. One of our most recent studies examines how subtle changes in infants’ behaviour during interactions with their primary caregiver influences the cooperative nature of early interactions. In collaboration with Associate Professor Mark Sagar and the Laboratory for Animate Technologies, one goal of this project is to develop models of these early interactions and simulate them in the world’s first virtual infant model, BabyX. This work is funded by the University of Auckland and a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship awarded to Dr. Annette Henderson.

Children’s Understanding of Intentions

Young children growing up in New Zealand are increasingly exposed to information presented on electronic devices. Yet, we know little about what they learn from these devices. We know that children learn from observing others, for example parents, caregivers, siblings, and friends. We also know that from 18-months-olds children can understand the intentions of others, and can help others to complete their goals. What we do not yet know is how children understand the intentions of social robots and whether they can help them achieve their goals.

Storybook Study of Social Understanding

The development of social understanding is essential for humans to survive and thrive in society, and the foundations for this are widely thought to be developed throughout toddlerhood and beyond through the sorts of language that children are exposed to. As children learn to recognise others’ unique perspective on the world and that their beliefs and desires grow from this, they start to develop the social understanding and skills to succeed through life. We aim to assess whether this ability can be accelerated with the reading of specially designed books to your child for two months.

If your child is between 2.5- and 4-years-old, and you are able to come three testing sessions and read the books to them between the first and second, you are able to take part! This research is being conducted in collaboration with the University of Otago, funded by the Royal Society of New Zealand’s Marsden Fund that was awarded to Prof. Ted Ruffman. Because of this, testing must occur between the 22nd of September and the 14th of October, then between the 24th of November and the 16th of September, and finally the 26th of January and the 17th of Februrary.


To participate or find out more, register your interest here or contact us at