Children may benefit when mothers and fathers react differently to their negative emotions

September 28, 2007

When a child is distressed, anxious, or angry, mom and dad don't have to respond in the same way. A new study finds that when both parents are supportive, they may shield the child from handling negative emotions.

The researchers suggest that when one parent provides little support and the other provides more support--for example, if a child becomes anxious or upset about losing a favorite toy, one parent may intervene by hugging the child and helping think of places to look for the toy, while the other parent hangs back and is available if needed--the child ends up with reduced conflicts with friends and a better understanding of negative emotions.

The research, conducted at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, North Carolina State University, and the University of Michigan, appears in the September/October 2007 issue of the journal Child Development.

In the first of two studies, researchers interviewed 55 kindergarten children to assess their understanding of emotions. In the second study, they observed 49 preschoolers interacting with close friends during two play sessions, noting levels of play and conflict between the children and their friends. In both studies, mothers and fathers independently answered questions about their reactions to their children's negative emotions. The researchers then used a measure of "supportive reactions" for each parent that captured levels of parents comforting their children and solving problems in response to their children's displays of negative feelings.

The researchers found that when one parent provided little support in response to a child's feelings of anger or anxiety and the other parent provided a lot of support, the child had less conflict with friends and a better understanding of emotions. When both parents provided a lot of support, however, children had less understanding of their emotions and more conflict with peers. This may be because when both parents support a child's negative feelings, they may shield the child from learning about and managing these emotions.

"The findings highlight the importance of understanding how mothers and fathers together may influence their children's ability to understand and manage emotions," according to Nancy McElwain, assistant professor of human development at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the study's lead author. "By moving beyond a 'mother-only' model and examining the joint contributions that mothers and fathers make to their children's well-being, researchers, clinicians, and early childhood educators will be better positioned to design and implement interventions aimed at fostering healthy social and emotional development."
-end-
The studies were supported, in part, by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Summarized from Child Development, Vol. 78, Issue 5, Mother- and Father-Reported Reactions to Children's Negative Emotions: Relations to Young Children's Emotional Understanding and Friendship Quality by McElwain, NL (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Halberstadt, AG (North Carolina State University), and Volling, BL (University of Michigan). Copyright 2007 The Society for Research in Child Development, Inc. All rights reserved.

Society for Research in Child Development

Related Emotions Articles from Brightsurf:

Why are memories attached to emotions so strong?
Multiple neurons in the brain must fire in synchrony to create persistent memories tied to intense emotions, new research from Columbia neuroscientists has found.

The relationship between looking/listening and human emotions
Toyohashi University of Technology has indicated that the relationship between attentional states in response to pictures and sounds and the emotions elicited by them may be different in visual perception and auditory perception.

Multitasking in the workplace can lead to negative emotions
From writing papers to answering emails, it's common for office workers to juggle multiple tasks at once.

Do ER caregivers' on-the-job emotions affect patient care?
Doctors and nurses in emergency departments at four academic centers and four community hospitals in the Northeast reported a wide range of emotions triggered by patients, hospital resources and societal factors, according to a qualitative study led by a University of Massachusetts Amherst social psychologist.

The 'place' of emotions
The entire set of our emotions is mapped in a small region of the brain, a 3 centimeters area of the cortex, according to a study conducted at the IMT School for Advanced Studies Lucca, Italy.

Faking emotions at work does more harm than good
Faking your emotions at work to appear more positive likely does more harm than good, according to a University of Arizona researcher.

Students do better in school when they can understand, manage emotions
Students who are better able to understand and manage their emotions effectively, a skill known as emotional intelligence, do better at school than their less skilled peers, as measured by grades and standardized test scores, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

How people want to feel determines whether others can influence their emotions
New Stanford research on emotions shows that people's motivations are a driving factor behind how much they allow others to influence their feelings, such as anger.

Moral emotions, a diagnotic tool for frontotemporal dementia?
A study conducted by Marc Teichmann and Carole Azuar at the Brain and Spine Institute in Paris (France) and at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital shows a particularly marked impairment of moral emotions in patients with frontotemporal dementia (FTD).

Emotions from touch
Touching different types of surfaces may incur certain emotions. This was the conclusion made by the psychologists from the Higher School of Economics in a recent empirical study.

Read More: Emotions News and Emotions Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.