Williams Child and Family Health Research Group


Natalie Williams

Dr. Natalie Williams Principal Investigator

I am currently an Assistant Professor of Child Health/Mental Health in the Department of Child, Youth and Family Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

I was born in Boston, Massachusetts but spent most of my childhood in Bloomington, Indiana. I left Indiana to attend college at Colgate University in chilly Hamilton, New York, and then returned to the Midwest to pursue my graduate education at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

After receiving my doctorate, I headed south to complete a postdoctoral fellowship in Behavioral Medicine at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN, and then worked as a faculty member at the University of Memphis (School of Public Health, 2009-2012) and the University of Southern Mississippi (Department of Psychology, 2012-2013).

After many years of southern heat and humidity, I was thrilled to buy some winter gear and move my family back home to the Midwest. I live in Lincoln with my husband and our two children. In our free time, we enjoy playing outdoors, exploring our community, and traveling to visit our family and friends. A highlight of this summer was our family vacation to Oregon. We all loved the wild Oregon Coast!

Olivia and Benjamin

Graduate Student Collaborators

Maren Hankey

Maren Hankey is a graduate student in the Clinical Psychology Training Program here at UNL, where she is mentored by Dr. Tim Nelson. She majored in psychology at Creighton University and completed her Master’s degree in a Clinical Psychology program at the University of Southern Mississippi, where worked closely with Dr. Williams. Maren is interested in pediatric health issues among infants and young children, including the interplay between intrapersonal and environmental influences on health. Her thesis examined the relationship between maternal feeding style, child eating behaviors, and childhood obesity. In the future, Maren would like to become a pediatric health researcher.

Maren Hankey


At UNL, I am conducting research related to child and family health. One line of inquiry focuses on promoting the wellbeing of children and families coping with chronic or life-threatening medical conditions. A second line of inquiry focuses on child nutrition and obesity prevention, and emphasizes collaborations with other members of the Healthy Humans cluster at UNL.

Current Research Projects

massage therapy study

High levels of parental distress are common during inpatient pediatric rehabilitation, and if not addressed, can adversely impact family functioning and children’s therapy progress. The goal of this project is to evaluate therapeutic massage as a tool to improve the wellbeing of parents in the inpatient pediatric rehabilitation environment by reducing parent stress and improving sleep. This study is the first empirical investigation of the benefits of massage for caregivers in the pediatric rehabilitation context. It aims to determine 1) the impact of dosage of massage therapy on aspects of parents’ emotional well-being, 2) the impact of therapeutic massage on parents' stress reactivity, and 3) the treatment acceptability a massage therapy intervention for parents during their child’s hospitalization.

This pilot study is part of a growing research collaboration with the Institute for Rehabilitation Science and Engineering at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital.

Madonna Collaborators
Dr. Natalie Williams, Dr. Paul Springer, and Dr. Judy Burnfield

Funding: Massage Therapy Foundation
Co-Investigators: Dr. Paul Springer and Dr. Judy Burnfield

Growing Healthy Toddlers Study

Many knowledge gaps exist in relation to social and behavioral factors that influence obesity risk during the first two years of life. Formation of a secure attachment pattern is a critical milestone of early development that provides the foundation for positive psychological and health-related outcomes throughout the lifespan, and emerging evidence suggests this may be an important factor in childhood obesity risk. The goal of this pilot study is to provide preliminary data related to 1) the relation of insecure attachment to excessive weight gain and high weight-for-length in the second year of life, and 2) aspects of the family environment and child characteristics that may explain or alter the effects of insecure attachment on the development of obesity (e.g., child self-regulation). The long-term goal of this research is identify modifiable social and behavioral early life risk factors that can be addressed in cross-disciplinary obesity prevention programs to set at-risk children on a trajectory of healthy development.

Funding: University of Nebraska Foundation, Layman’s Award
Co-Investigators: Dr. Dipti Dev and Dr. David Hansen


*Indicates graduate student co-author

*Jobe-Shield, L. Parra, GR, Williams, N.A., & Andrews, A. Person-centered approaches to understanding early family risk. Journal of Family Theory & Review (in press).

*Shafer, E., Williams, N.A., Ogg-Digney, S. Hare, M. & Ashida, S. Social contexts of infant feeding and infant feeding decisions. Journal of Human Lactation (in press).

Ashida, S, Lynn, F.B., Williams, N.A., Shafer, E. Competing infant feeding information in mothers' networks: Advice that supports versus undermines clinical recommendations. Public Health Nutrition (in press).

Berlin, K. S., Williams, N. A., & Parra, G. R. (2014). An introduction to latent variable mixture modeling (part 1): Cross sectional latent class and latent profile analyses. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 39, 174–187.

Williams, N.A., & Hankey, M. (2015). Support and negativity in interpersonal relationships impact caregivers’ quality of life in pediatric food allergy. Quality of Life Research, 24(6), 1369-78.

Berlin, K. S., Parra, G. R., & Williams, N. A. (2014). An introduction to latent variable mixture modeling (part 2): Longitudinal latent class growth and growth mixture models. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 39, 188–203.

Williams, N. A., Fournier, J., Coday, M., Richey, P. A., Tylavsky, F. A., & Hare, M. (2013). Body esteem, peer difficulties, and perceptions of physical health in overweight and obese urban children ages 5 to 7 years. Child: Care, Health, and Development, 39, 825–834.

Klesges L., Williams, N. A., Davis, K., Buscemi, J., & Kitzmann, K. (2012). Extent of pragmatic results reported in behavioral treatment of childhood obesity research studies: A systematic review. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 42, 185–192.

Hare, M., Coday, M., Williams, N. A., Tylavsky, F. A., Richey, P. A., Somes, G., & Bush, A. (2012). Design and baseline results for the Positive Lifestyles for Active Youngsters (Team PLAY) trial. Contemporary Clinical Trials, 33, 534–549.

Williams, N. A., Allen, M. T., & Phipps, S. (2011). Adaptive style and physiological reactivity during a laboratory stress paradigm in children with cancer and healthy controls. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 34, 372–380.

Williams, N. A., Davis, G., Hancock, M., & Phipps, S. (2010). Optimism and pessimism in children with cancer and healthy controls: Confirmatory factor analysis of the Youth Life Orientation Test and relations with health-related quality of life. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 35, 672–682.

Williams, N. A., Coday, M., Somes, G., Tylavsky, F. A., Richey, P. A., & Hare, M. (2010). Risk factors for poor attendance in a family-based pediatric obesity intervention program for young children. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, 31, 705–712.

Williams, N. A., Parra, G. R., & Elkin, T. D. (2009). Subjective distress and emotional resources in parents of children with food allergy. Children’s Health Care, 38, 213–227.

Williams, N. A., Parra, G. R., & Elkin, T. D. (2009). Parenting children with food allergy: Preliminary development of a measure assessing child-rearing behaviors in the context of pediatric food allergy. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, 103, 140–145.

Crabtree, V. M., & Williams, N. A. (2009). Normal sleep in children and adolescents. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 18, 799–811.

International Engagement


I participated in a 10 day study tour led by Dr. Carolyn Edwards to Pistoia and Reggio Emilia, Italy in March, 2014. This experience provided valuable in-depth exposure to Italian perspectives on child development and the Pistoia and Reggio Emilia approaches to early childhood education. During this trip we visited infant/toddler programs as well as programs for preschool–aged children, and interacted directly with children and their teachers. Of course, we also enjoyed the beautiful Italian countryside and delicious food, wine, and gelato!



In October, 2014, I traveled with Dr. Paul Springer to Lisbon, Portugal to initiate a research collaboration with Dr. Tania Gaspar and her colleagues at the Universaide Luisida-Lisboa. It was an enjoyable and productive trip. Lisbon is a beautiful city with a rich history.


In the spring of 2015 we hosted Dr. Gaspar here at UNL and continued our planning for a collaborative research project focused on family-based approaches to obesity prevention. I am looking forward to returning to Portugal in the near future, and am excited about the potential to involve students in this international work.


In the spring of 2015, I traveled to Beijing and Xian, China as part of a CYAF study abroad trip led by Drs. Rich Bischoff and Yan Xia. The theme of this trip was Chinese families, children, and family life. Over the course of our 16 day trip, we visited schools, interacted with families in their homes, attended a wedding ceremony, and fully immersed ourselves in China’s culture and remarkable history. An added benefit of this trip was the opportunity it provided to really get to know some of our wonderful undergraduate and graduate students!



To learn more about the research we are doing, or opportunities to work with our group, please contact Dr. Williams by email (nwilliams17@unl.edu) or telephone (402-472-7704).