Research into the emotional responses and behavior patterns of young children has relied mostly on third-party reports. Most commonly, parents, caregivers, and educators provide data based on their perception of a child’s behavior. Although this information is often subjective, the true emotional reactions and behaviors have yet to be accurately assessed. In recent years, novel methods of monitoring childhood behavior have been developed. The Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR) is a noninvasive recording device that can be worn by a small child with relative ease. It is able to record audible data over the course of several hours and days. Richard B. Slatcher of the Department of Psychology at Wayne State University in Michigan recently employed the EAR in a study designed to assess how parental negativity affected children’s negativity, specifically negative behaviors and words.
Slatcher recruited 35 preschool children and their parents and had the children wear the EAR on a weekend day at two different times a year apart. The parents were instructed to go about their usual activities, and Slatcher monitored the family environment for conflict, arguing, parental expressiveness, negativity, and childhood response. He found that fathers’ negative affect predicted more whining in the children, while mothers’ negative affect and emotional expressiveness predicted more arguing and negative word usage in children. The results also showed that children with low emotional negativity were not as vulnerable to the impact of their mothers’ emotional negativity. It was the children high in emotional negativity who demonstrated the most fighting and conflict when their mothers were also emotionally negative.
This result was also influenced by the mothers’ subjective views. In fact, it was only the mothers who reported children demonstrating negative over positive emotions that also reported excessive arguing and fighting behavior in their children. When the mothers’ negativity was added in, the behavior of the children deteriorated further. However, this was not found in mothers with negative affect whose children did not express negative emotions. “Thus, although negative expressiveness amplified the links between negative emotionality and child problem behaviors, positive expressiveness dampened those links,” Slatcher said. Although the relatively small number of participants and the short duration of observation may limit these results somewhat, these findings provide a glimpse into the relationship between parental emotional expressiveness and affect and how these factors influence behavior in young children. Slatcher hopes future efforts will use a broader participant sample and find ways to make it feasible to utilize the EAR over longer time periods.
Slatcher, Richard B., and Christopher J. Trentacosta. Influences of parent and child negative emotionality on young children’s everyday behaviors. Emotion 12.5 (2012): 932-42. Print.
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