Professor Psychology

Lab site: Pediatric Health Lab

Dr. Nelson received his Ph.D. in clinical child psychology from the University of Kansas in 2008 following a clinical internship at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. He subsequently completed his post-doctoral fellowship in pediatric psychology in the Stanford University School of Medicine before joining the UNL faculty in 2009. He has served as the Associate Director of Clinical Training at UNL since 2012.

Research Interests:

Dr. Nelson’s research interests are in pediatric psychology and pediatric health neuroscience. Specifically, his work focuses on the intersection of behavioral, biological, cognitive, social, and environmental influences on child and adolescent health behaviors and outcomes. Much of his current work examines the development of executive control (EC) from preschool through adolescence and the impacts of early EC deficits on subsequent mental and physical health outcomes. Dr. Nelson’s research especially focuses on identifying potentially modifiable factors – including individual, family, peer, school and community characteristics – that impact the development of “high impact” pediatric health behaviors (e.g., sleep, diet, physical activity, substance use) to inform developmentally-sensitive health promotion interventions. He is also interested in health disparities and understanding the mechanisms that contribute to risk and resilience for vulnerable pediatric populations. In his current work, he is pursuing these interests using a variety of data collection methodologies, including developmentally-appropriate neuropsychological tasks, actigraphy, multiple 24-hour dietary recalls, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), event-related potentials (ERP), salivary bioscience, neighborhood geocoding, ecological momentary assessment (EMA), questionnaires, and medical record reviews. Below are brief descriptions of current research projects.

Executive Control and Adolescent Health. Longitudinal study examining the role of executive control across development on adolescent health-related factors (e.g., weight status, diet, physical activity, sleep, stress reactivity, substance use, psychopathology), with an emphasis on the environmental context in which executive control and health interact.

Modifiable Predictors of Neural Vulnerabilities for Obesity. Study exploring various modifiable factors (including executive control, key health behaviors, and obesogenic neighborhood environment) in childhood and adolescence as potential predictors of emerging neural vulnerabilities for obesity (as measured by fMRI) in young adulthood.

Pediatric Sleep and Psychopathology Project. Projects exploring associations between children’s sleep and mental health symptoms. Specific studies include daily-level investigations of bidirectional effects between sleep and psychopathology, sleep intervention development, and evaluation of a brief sleep protocol for children presenting with disruptive behavior problems.

Teaching Interests:

Dr. Nelson's teaching interests are in clinical and clinical child psychology. He teaches courses in child psychopathology and assessment, abnormal psychology, and child treatment.

Selected Publications
Peer Reviewed Journal Articles
  • Nelson, T.D., James, T.D., Nelson, J.M., Johnson, A.B., Mason, W.A., Yaroch, A.L., & Espy, K.A. (2020). Associations between specific components of executive control and eating behaviors in adolescence: A study using objective and subjective measures. Appetite, 154(1), 1-10.

  • Tomaso, C. C., Johnson, A. B., James, T. D., Nelson, J. M., Mason, W. A., Espy, K. A., & Nelson, T. D. (2020) Emotion regulation strategies as mediators of the relationship between internalizing psychopathology and sleep-wake problems during the transition to adolescence: A longitudinal study. Journal of Early Adolescence. Online first published July 24, 2020.

  • Mason, W.A., Fleming, C.B., Tomaso, C.C., James, T.D., Nelson, J.M., Espy, K.A., & Nelson, T.D. (2020). Associations of early socio-familial stress with maladaptive and adaptive functioning in middle childhood: Roles of executive control and foundation cognitive abilities. Prevention Science, 21(5), 681-690.

  • Nelson, T.D., Nelson, J.M., Mason, W.A., Kozikowski, C.B., Tomaso, C.C., & Espy. K.A. (2019). Executive control and adolescent health: Toward a conceptual framework. Adolescent Research Review, 4(1), 31-43.

  • Kidwell, K.M., McGinnis, J.C., Nguyen, A.V., Arcidiacono, S., & Nelson, T.D. (2019). A pilot study examining the effectiveness of brief sleep treatment to improve children’s emotional and behavioral functioning. Children’s Health Care, 48(3), 314-331.

  • Nelson, T.D., Kidwell, K.M., Nelson, J.M., Tomaso, C.C., Hankey, M., & Espy, K.A. (2018). Preschool executive control and internalizing symptoms in elementary school. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 46(7), 1509-1520.

  • Nelson, T.D., Kidwell, K. M., Hankey, M., Nelson, J. M., & Espy, K. A. (2018). Preschool executive control and sleep problems in early adolescence. Behavioral Sleep Medicine, 16(5). 494-503.
  • Kidwell, K.M., Kozikowski, C., Roth, T., Lundahl, A., & Nelson, T.D. (2018). Concurrent and longitudinal associations among temperament, parental feeding styles, and selective eating in a preschool sample. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 43(5), 572-583.

  • Nelson, T.D., James, T.D., Hankey, M., Nelson, J.M., Lundahl, A., & Espy, K.A. (2017). Early executive control and risk for overweight and obesity in elementary school. Child Neuropsychology, 23(8), 994-1002.

  • Kidwell, K.M., Hankey, M., Nelson, J.M., Espy, K.A., & Nelson, T.D. (2017). Child executive control as a moderator of the longitudinal association between sleep problems and subsequent attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 42(10), 1144-1155.

  • Nelson, T.D., Nelson, J.M., James, T.D., Clark, C.A., Kidwell, K.M., & Espy, K.A. (2017). Executive control goes to school: Implications of preschool executive performance for observed elementary classroom learning engagement. Developmental Psychology, 53(5), 836-844.

  • Hankey, M., Kidwell, K.M., Nelson, J.M., Espy, K.A., & Nelson, T.D. (2017). Weight status as amediator of the association between preschool extraversion and adolescent restrained eating. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 42(8), 882-891.

  • Kidwell, K.M., Nelson, T. D., Nelson, J.M., & Espy, K.A. (2017). A longitudinal study of maternal and child internalizing symptoms predicting early adolescent emotional eating. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 42(4), 445-456.
  • Lundahl, A., & Nelson, T.D. (2016). ADHD symptomatology and pediatric obesity: Psychopathology or sleep deprivation? Journal of Health Psychology, 21, 1055-1065.
  • Nelson, T.D., Van Dyk, T.R., McGinnis, J.C., Nguyen, A.V., & Long, S.K. (2016). Brief sleep intervention to enhance behavioral parent training for noncompliance: Preliminary findings from a practice-based study. Clinical Practice in Pediatric Psychology, 4(2), 176-187.
  • Van Dyk, T.R., Thompson, R.W., & Nelson, T.D. (2016). Daily bidirectional relationships between sleep and mental health symptoms in youth with emotional and behavioral problems. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 41, 983-992.
  • Kidwell, K.M., Nelson, T.D., & Van Dyk, T.R. (2015). Parenting stress and child physical health among a low-income sample: The moderating role of child anxiety. Journal of Health Psychology, 20, 1377-1387.
  • Kidwell, K.M., Van Dyk, T.R., Lundahl, A., & Nelson, T.D. (2015). Stimulant medications and sleep for youth with ADHD: A meta-analysis. Pediatrics, 136, 1145-1153.
  • Lundahl, A., Kidwell, K.M., Van Dyk, T.R., & Nelson, T.D. (2015). A meta-analysis of the effect of experimental sleep restriction on youth’s attention and hyperactivity. Developmental Neuropsychology, 40, 104-121.
  • Lundahl, A., & Nelson, T.D. (2015). Sleep and food intake: A multisystem review of mechanisms in children and adults. Journal of Health Psychology, 20, 794-805.
  • Nelson, T.D., Nelson, J.M., Kidwell, K.M., James, T.D., & Espy, K.A. (2015). Preschool sleep problems and differential associations with specific aspects of executive control in elementary school. Developmental Neuropsychology, 40, 167-180.
  • Lundahl, A., Kidwell, K.M., & Nelson, T.D. (2014). Parental overestimations of children’s underweight status: A meta-analysis. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 48, 184-193.
  • Lundahl, A., Kidwell, K.M., & Nelson, T.D. (2014). Parental underestimates of child weight: A meta-analysis. Pediatrics, 133, e689-703.
  • Nelson, T.D., Lundahl, A., Molfese, D.L., Waford, R., Roman, A., Gozal, D., Molfese, V.J., & Ferguson, M. (2014). Estimating child sleep from parent report of time in bed: Development and evaluation of adjustment approaches. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 39, 624-632.
  • Nelson, T.D., Kidwell, K.M., Armenta, B.E., Crockett, L.J., Carlo, G., & Whitbeck, L. B. (2014). Rural Latino adolescent health: Preliminary examination of health status and cultural correlates. Journal of Health Psychology, 19, 802-809.
  • Van Dyk, T.R., & Nelson, T.D. (2014). Peer victimization and child physical health: The moderating role of pessimism. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 39, 469-480.
  • Nelson, T.D., Smith, T.R., Thompson, R.W., Epstein, M.H., Griffith, A.K., Duppong Hurley, K., & Tonniges, T.F. (2011). Prevalence of physical health problems among youth entering residential treatment. Pediatrics, 128, e1226-1232.
Books Or Chapters Published
  • Nelson, T.D., & Hankey, M. (2017). Evidence-based practice in pediatric psychology. In M.C. Roberts & R.G. Steele (Eds.), Handbook of pediatric psychology, 5th ed. (pp.92-104). New York: Guilford.

  • Aylward, B.S., Cushing, C.C., & Nelson, T.D. (2014). The use of technology in pediatric psychology practice. In M.C. Roberts, B.S. Aylward, & Wu, Y.P. (Eds.), Clinical Practice of Pediatric Psychology: Cases and Service Delivery. (pp. 139-149). New York: Guilford.

  • Nelson, T. D., & Aylward, B. S. (2010). Pediatric feeding disorders. In R. J. Shaw & D. R. DeMaso (Eds.), Textbook of pediatric psychosomatic medicine. (pp.173-184). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
  • R01DK116693, Executive control and adolescent weight trajectories. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)/National Institutes of Health (NIH), July 2018-April 2023. Role: Principal Investigator.
  • R01DA041738, Role of executive control in adolescent substance use and co-occurring problems. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)/National Institutes of Health (NIH), February 2017 - November 2021. Role: Multiple Principal Investigator.
  • R01DK125651, Modifiable predictors of neural vulnerabilities for obesity. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)/National Institutes of Health (NIH), July 2020-April 2025. Role: Multiple Principal Investigator.
  • U5GM115458-02 Pilot Project, Developing executive control, obesity risk, and behavioral health problems: A pilot fMRI study. Great Plains IDeA-CTR/National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)/National Institutes of Health (NIH). July 2018-June 2021. Role: Project Principal Investigator.
  • R01HD087384, Household income and child development in the first three years of life. Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)/National Institutes of Health (NIH), September 2017-July 2022. Role: Co-Investigator/UNL Site Multiple Principal Investigator.