Affective social competence
One challenge to the study of children’s socio-emotional development has been to synthesize the myriad competencies of importance to children’s wellbeing. However, Susanne Denham, Julie Dunsmore, and I created a transactional model that now brings the many skills and processes involved in “affective social competence” (ASC) into one coherent, testable whole. In brief, the ASC model proposes that children develop emotional skills in three broad domains: sending (“the efficacious communication of one’s own affect”), receiving (“the successful interpretation and response to others’ affective communications”), and experiencing (“the awareness, acceptance, and management of one’s own affect”; Halberstadt, Denham, & Dunsmore 2001, p. 80). Our work in the lab is, in general, influenced by this conceptualization of affective social competence.
Parents’ beliefs and behaviors about children’s emotions
Parents’ beliefs about children’s emotions are thought to be important mechanisms that inform parents’ childrearing behaviors, and subsequently impact children’s socio-emotional competence. For example, Dix (1991; 1992; 1993) hypothesized that parents’ attributions about their children influence their emotional reactions toward them, and subsequently, how they socialize their children. Dunsmore and Halberstadt (1997) proposed that parents’ emotionally expressive behavior and beliefs about emotions work together to help children create self- and world-schemas. Gottman, et al. (Gottman, Katz, & Hooven, 1996, 1997; Katz, Wilson, & Gottman, 1999) similarly proposed that parents’ beliefs and behaviors regarding emotion, that is, their “meta-emotion theories and coaching,” affect important life outcomes for children. Further, parental awareness and coaching of emotions are related to more positive and less negative peer play in preschool-aged children (Katz & Windecker-Nelson, 2004).
Our recent work has focused on testing some of the propositions regarding parental beliefs and their associations with children’s behavior. In one study, we assessed linkages between parental beliefs about the value of emotion and parental behaviors, such as parents’ sharing of their own emotional experiences and discussing emotional topics with their children (Halberstadt, Thompson, Parker, & Dunsmore, 2008). And we also examined the linkages between parental beliefs and behaviors with the number of different and distinct kinds of coping strategies children were able to generate, following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In this study we found that parental beliefs about the value of emotion were related to how parents discussed the terrorist attacks and expressed their own feelings with their children. Parental beliefs about emotion as valuable and as dangerous were both directly related to children’s coping two months after the attacks. These two variables further predicted parents’ emotion-related behavior and children’s engagement in a conversation about the attacks one year later. These results as well as other studies from our lab and Julie Dunsmore’s lab at Virginia Tech suggest that parental beliefs may well be a powerful predictor of both parental behavior and children’s outcomes (e.g., Dunsmore, Her, Halberstadt, & Rivera, 2009; Stelter & Halberstadt, 2011).
Three other studies deserve mention: We have found the field lacking in ways to adequately measure all the beliefs that we consider important. Thus, we have devoted considerable effort to developing a theoretically –based measure of parents’ beliefs about children’s emotions. First, we turned to parents themselves, and listened and learned from them through focus groups. Because we are committed to creating measures that resonate for diverse populations of parents, and based on data suggesting the importance of culture when considering beliefs about emotion (e.g., Tan & Cole, 2005), we decided to learn from both mothers and fathers from three ethnicities in the United States (African-American, European- American, and Lumbee Native American). We were both honored by these parents’ contributions to our understanding of their beliefs and amazed by the rich and vivid data emerging from these meetings (Parker et al., 2012).
In a second study we utilized parents’ wisdom in improving our preliminary questionnaire on parental beliefs about emotions, which we then gave to 1108 mothers and fathers within the same three ethnicities. Initial factor analyses indicated 11 subscales that were consistently found across the three ethnicities; the questionnaire that emerged from those analyses is the PBACE (2008) and is used in numerous studies. Using more stringent rules for skew and kurtosis, we later re-analyzed these data (EFA, CFA) and identified 7 scales that are also invariant by ethnicity and gender (Halberstadt, Dunsmore, Bryant, Parker, Beale, & Thompson, 2013), These scales also relate in predictable ways to parents’ modeling of emotion-related behaviors and their reactions to children’s negative and positive emotion (Halberstadt et al., 2013).
In a third study, we further explored how parents’ beliefs relate to and likely direct specific types of socialization behaviors; in this study we found that parents’ beliefs about the value of emotion related in predictable ways with their labeling of, teaching about, and encouragement of children’s emotion (Lozada, Halberstadt, Craig, Dunsmore, & Dennis, under review). In the larger study from which these data originated, we also found that children’ emotion understanding was uniquely predicted by parents’ belief in the danger of emotion, parents’ belief that children should guide their own emotional development, and parents’ own skills in understanding children's’ emotions (Castro, Halberstadt, Lozada, & Craig, 2014). In our most recent work (the CUED IN study described below), we extend these findings to explore parents’ beliefs and their behaviors in conjunction with each other, and in relation to children’s outcomes, including very specific and comprehensive measures of emotion understanding and emotion experience, and more global measures of social functioning in school settings.
Children' emotion understanding: CUED IN Study
Although emotion understanding is a central competence for children’s interpersonal and academic success, and parents are important agents of children’s emotion socialization, few studies have considered mothers’ emotion-related socialization beliefs, emotional skills, parenting styles, or socialization behaviors as predictors of children’s emotion understanding abilities beyond early childhood. That has been the goal of our NSF-funded research, with Patricia Garrett-Peters as co-PI, and extending a longitudinal study from birth housed in the Center for Developmental Science, of which we are a part. In this study, we first explore associations between multiple facets of emotion understanding (including accuracy regarding emotions people show on their faces and bodies and in their voices, and knowledge about when and why people have certain feelings and show or control their feelings). Dynamic measurement during middle childhood is particularly important because, in real life, adults and older children tend to only partially express, or even mask, their emotions. This work is now under review (Castro, Halberstadt, & Garrett-Peters, submitted). Second, we examine direct and mediated contributions to children’s emotion understanding and emotion regulation made by mothers’ parenting styles and beliefs about emotions, and their emotion socialization behaviors, including discussion of emotion with children and reactions to children’s negative feelings; third, these parental socialization processes are then linked to children’s emotion understanding and emotion regulation and occasionally even further, to children’s social skills and relationships with teachers and peers in ongoing school contexts (Garrett-Peters, Halberstadt, & Castro, in preparation; MacCormack, Castro, Halberstadt, Rogers, & Garrett-Peters, P., in preparation; Rogers, Halberstadt, Castro, & Garrett-Peters, in preparation). Fourth, all these associations are considered within the contexts of race and class. Finally, we embedded some “specialty” emotions in this study so that we could look at pride and schadenfreude in more detail. All these data sets are ready for a multitude of additional analyses, beyond what we have described above, both within the study itself and linking to the longitudinal data set. For example, we are collaborating with colleagues to FACS code children’s spontaneous expressions of emotion during an in vivo discussion of conflict with parents to identify whether children’s real-life emotional expression is prototypical or non-prototypical. We welcome additional collaborators.
The Social Construction of Emotional Experience, Expression and Understanding
The socialization of emotion is the broadest lens in our lab, and issues of gender, ethnicity, and culture are interwoven throughout. However, a few studies and initiatives might best be described here.
First, our interest in gendered language: Language involves learning both the specific language itself and the rules and conventions of the culture. Parents make many choices in how they talk to children; as they do so, they teach children (inadvertently or consciously) a variety of cultural rules. Our work in this domain relates to gender: If language highlights the importance of gender, then we would expect children to construct schemas reflecting the importance of gender (Turiel, 1983; Vygotsky, 1962). In a study of parent-child and child-child conversations, we document the frequency of gendered speech and, additionally, the specific types of messages that children hear from family members and that they communicate themselves to others. We find that mothers communicate different messages by gender, even with children as young as four years old. These investigations support the claim that parents construct gendered behavior and values in children via the linguistic messages they convey, and children also bring their own gendered ideas to the table as well (Halberstadt, Sibley, Craig, & Thompson, in preparation).
We have also studied whether previously found parent gender differences are differentially embedded in various cultures. Briefly, we found that gender differences in both parents’ emotional expressiveness and reactions to children’s negative emotions vary substantially by culture, creating a further challenge for claims that gender differences in emotion-related behaviors are biological (Brown, Craig, & Halberstadt, under review). We are further exploring these differences in terms of mothers’ egalitarian style of parenting and the subsequent impact on children’s school outcomes.
Considering the impact of culture further, we have begun exploring ways in which parents socialize the expression, experience, and understanding of emotion within various cultures and have worked to add a deeper conceptualization of the frames we use when considering culture (Halberstadt & Lozada, 2011). We are now examining how parents discuss discriminatory experiences with their children, and how this relates to children’s understanding of emotion as depicted in African American and European American facial expressions, and children’s overall social competence in school. We are also examining the role of emotion understanding in schools, by considering how teachers’ understanding of emotion may reflect and/or perpetuate misunderstanding by culture and race. This is an important direction that the lab is taking -- applying what we know about emotion understanding toward social justice questions and educational outcomes.
Finally, we are exploring various aspects of socialization of emotion in other cultures. For example, with Yulia Chentsova, at Georgeown University, we have proposed a series of studies to explore the socialization of emotion, as embedded within proximal and distal cultural factors, in the United States and Russia.We are also exploring and welcome such collaborations with other international scholars.
Specific emotions: Our favorites!Honestly, we like them all: We have published work on anger in the family, and social contagion of anger (Halberstadt, Beale, Meade, Parker, & Thompson, 2014), and continue to be interested in what makes people angry in their families. We have also been exploring the socialization of pride (Leary and Halberstadt, in preparation), with very promising results. In the CUED IN study described above, we also learned that third-grade children are very capable of experiencing schadenfreude (Leary & Halberstadt, in preparation). Gratitude is a new emotion in our lab, and with Andrea Hussong and collaborators, we have created multiple measures with which to open the field of studying gratitude in young children; utilizing these measures in a study with 200 young children and their mothers, we can now assess more completely how gratitude develops within the family. Finally, the newest work in the lab is on disappointment and sadness, in two cross-laboratory and cross-cultural initiatives.