Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

The Role of Maternal Emotional Validation and Invalidation on Children's Emotional Awareness

Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

The Role of Maternal Emotional Validation and Invalidation on Children's Emotional Awareness

Article excerpt

Why are some children more aware of their emotions than others? In addition to possible genetic factors, socializing processes are likely to play an important role (Stegge & Meerum Terwogt, 2007). The question is important to answer because there is evidence that emotional awareness plays a role in the development of children's emotional and social competence (Fonagy, Gergely, Jurist, & Target, 2002; Smith, Hubbard, & Laurenceau, 2011) and in their mental health (Casey & Schlosser, 1994; Rieffe & De Rooij, 2012; Zeman, Shipman, & Suveg, 2002). However, children's emotional awareness-by which we mean their ability to accurately recognize and report their own emotions-has not had the same amount of research attention as their emotional understanding, and the factors specifically facilitating the development of emotional awareness in children are arguably still not well understood. The present study aims to further understanding in this area by looking at the effects of a specific aspect of parenting-the use of emotional validation (Ginott, 1965; Linehan, 1993)-on young children's (age 4-7 years) emotional awareness.

We chose to examine this age group because it is known that, by this age, children are able to use self-describing emotion words (e.g., Wellman, Harris, Banerjee, & Sinclair, 1995), but that there are quite wide variations in how well these reports match expressive and behavioral measures (Warren & Stifter, 2008). Furthermore, children of this age are young enough to be strongly influenced by ongoing parental emotional regulation (Slade, 2005)-while being old enough to verbalize their emotions-thus making them suitable for the investigation of the influence of maternal emotional validation on their emotional awareness.

The present research also aims to overcome two problems that have arguably hindered progress in this area-namely, (a) failures to clearly distinguish conceptually between children's emotional awareness and their emotional understanding, and (b) difficulties in measuring and operationalizing emotional awareness. We shall briefly address these questions before examining the literature on how parenting may affect children's emotional awareness.

Defining and Measuring Children's Emotional Awareness

Researchers have tended to focus more on children's (third-person) emotional understanding than their (first-person) emotional awareness and have often failed to distinguish clearly between them. Whereas emotional awareness refers specifically to one's ability to attend to one's own emotional state in such way that it can be reported (Lambie, 2009), emotional understanding refers to a much broader skill set including the ability to recognize and name emotions in others and understand the causes and consequences of emotions (Saarni, Campos, Camras, & Witherington, 2006). Emotional awareness is specifically first person-it is knowledge of one's own in-the-moment and episodic emotional states-whereas emotional understanding is more third-personal, general, and semantic. Although emotional awareness and emotional understanding are likely to be related (e.g., they both involve categorization of emotion), they are distinct operations, and some of their underlying processes are likely to be different. For example, introspective attention to one's own state right now is needed for emotional awareness, but many semantic aspects of emotional understanding (e.g., knowing which situations typically evoke sadness in people) do not require this.

This brings us to the second difficulty already mentioned, which is how to measure emotional awareness in children. There have been broadly four different ways of doing this: (a) use hypothetical emotional scenarios and ask children "How would you feel in this situation?", scoring the complexity of the answers (e.g., Levels of Emotional Awareness Scale for Children; Bajgar, Ciarrochi, Lane, & Deane, 2005); (b) ask children to report generally how good they are at identifying their emotions (e. …

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