Family Expressivity: Caregiver Differences and Child Emotional Reactivity

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This study considered the process by which children emotionally develop within the context of the child’s environment, as families and especially caregivers play an important role in socializing emotional understanding and expression. We investigated how maternal characteristics, including depression and sensitivity, influenced child emotional reactivity over time, while also considering how overall family expressivity, both maternal and paternal, mediated this association. Data were drawn from the NICHD Study of Early Childcare and Youth Development. The current sample included data from grades three, four, five and six; and includes 710 children with mothers and fathers or mother’s partners (MP). Mothers’ depression and sensitivity towards their children were assessed. Additionally, mothers’ and MPs’ level of expressivity within the family and child emotional reactivity were measured across time. Latent growth modeling was used to analyze the relationships between both maternal sensitivity and depression and later child emotional reactivity, including family expressivity as a mediator. The results of this study revealed that child emotional reactivity was related to earlier levels of maternal depression and sensitivity. Furthermore, this relationship was mediated by positive emotional expressivity within the family; however, these relationships differed depending on mother or father/MP influence. Both mothers’ and father/MPs’ positive emotional expressivity at grade three mediated the relationship between maternal sensitivity and child emotional reactivity at grade four. However, only the maternal model showed a mediational relationship with maternal depression. These findings highlight the differences between caregiver perception and influence, and they suggest areas for intervention when working with the whole family or only the mother-child subsystem.


Education and Human Ecology: 1st Place (The Ohio State University Edward F. Hayes Graduate Research Forum)


Parent depression, Family expressivity, Emotional reactivity