Academic journal article Journal of Early Childhood and Infant Psychology

Internalizing and Externalizing Symptoms in Two-Year-Olds: Links to Mother-Toddler Emotion Processes

Academic journal article Journal of Early Childhood and Infant Psychology

Internalizing and Externalizing Symptoms in Two-Year-Olds: Links to Mother-Toddler Emotion Processes

Article excerpt

The developmental processes associated with emotion and emotion regulation are fundamental to early mental health and psychopathology (Cole & Deater-Deckard, 2009; Izard, Youngstrom, Fine, Mostow, & Trentacosta, 2006). Indeed, early difficulties in the experience, expression, and management of emotion appear central to the emergence and maintenance of child behavior disorders (e.g., Cole, Michel, & Teti, 1994; Frick & Morris, 2004; Shaw, Keenan, Vondra, Delliquadri, & Giovannelli, 1997; Silk, Shaw, Forbes, Lane, & Kovacs, 2006; Zeman, Shipman, & Suveg, 2002). Further, for very young children, such affective processes occur in the context of their social environment and unfold in the course of their dyadic interactions with caregivers. As such, a focus on parent-child emotion processes may offer important insight into the nature and interactive contexts of behavior problems as expressed in early childhood.

Mother-Toddler Emotions and Child Behavior Problems

There has been increasing theoretical and empirical attention devoted to the nature and function of emotions within early dyadic interactions. Constructs such as synchrony (Harrist & Waugh, 2002; Skuban, Shaw, Garnder, Supplee, & Nichols, 2006), mutuality (Deater-Deckard & Petrill, 2004; Lindsey, Cremeens, & Caldera, 2010), interactive contingency (Beebe et al., 2008), mutual responsiveness (Kochanska, 1997), emotional availability (Biringen, 2000), and co-regulation or mutual regulation (Fogel, 1993; Tronick, 1989) have been introduced to describe the dyadic and co-created nature of emotion within social interaction. Despite the varying terms used to describe these interactive processes, such constructs are similarly focused on the bi-directional and co-constructed nature of emotions within parent-child interaction. In addition, most conceptualizations include attention to dimensions of responsiveness (i.e., the extent to which parent and child engage in reciprocal and contingent emotional and behavioral exchanges) and emotion sharing (i.e., the extent to which affective states are simultaneously experienced). More specifically, there is evidence to suggest that parents and young children jointly influence the emotional course of their interactions by adjusting their emotion and behavior in concert with the signals of their interaction partner (i.e., responsiveness), such that the sharing of positive states (i.e., positive emotion sharing) is promoted and the sharing of negative states (i.e., negative emotion sharing) is minimized (e.g., Cole, Teti, & Zahn-Waxler, 2003; Lindsey, Cremeens, Colwell, & Caldera, 2009).

Research has suggested that parent-child emotion processes are associated with a variety of child developmental competencies, including self-regulation, compliance, communication skills, and social interactions with peers (Harrist, Petit, Dodge, & Bates, 1994; Lehman, Steier, Guidash, & Wanna, 2002; Lindsey et al., 2010; Lindsey et al., 2009; Raver, 1996; Rocissano, Slade, & Lynch, 1987). Moreover, there is growing empirical evidence to suggest that difficulties in the dyadic regulation of emotion may be associated with early childhood behavior problems. Specifically, parent-child interactions characterized by lower levels of contingent responding, less shared positive emotion, and heightened levels of shared negative emotion have been associated with increased child externalizing behavior problems, including disruptive behavior symptoms, aggressiveness, and noncompliance (Cole et al., 2003; Criss, Shaw, & Ingoldsby, 2003; Deater-Deckard, Atzaba-Poria, & Pike, 2004; Deater-Deckard & Petrill, 2004). Several studies have also suggested that there may be gender-specific associations between parent-child emotion processes and children's behavioral adjustment (e.g., Cole et al., 2003; Lindsey et al., 2009), with evidence to suggest that young boys may be particularly affected by the emotional dynamics of parent-child interaction and more susceptible to poor outcomes in the context of non-optimal interaction patterns. …

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