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Maternal Attachment Status, Mother-Child Emotion Talk, Emotion Understanding, and Child Conduct Problems

DOI: 10.1155/2013/680428

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Conduct problems that emerge in childhood often persist into adolescence and are associated with a range of negative outcomes. It is therefore important to identify the factors that predict conduct problems in early childhood. The present study investigated the relations among maternal attachment status, mother-child emotion talk, child emotion understanding, and conduct problems in a sample of 92 (46 males) typically developing children (M age = 61.3 months, SD = 8.3 months). The results support a model in which maternal attachment status predicts the level of appropriate/responsive mother-child emotion talk, which predicts child emotion understanding, which in turn negatively predicts child conduct problems. These findings further underline the developmental role of mother-child emotion talk as well as the importance of involving parents in programs designed to increase children’s emotion understanding and/or decrease the incidence of conduct problems. 1. Introduction Conduct problems involve atypical levels of oppositional behavior, aggression, stealing, and physical destructiveness [1]. These problems can begin in childhood [2] or adolescence [3] and may continue through the lifecycle [4]. Children who display conduct problems in the preschool years are at high risk of having problems that persist into adolescence (see [5] for a brief review). Indeed, this pattern, described as early starter [6], early onset [7], or life-course-persistent [8], is associated with the most negative prognosis including diagnoses of conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, antisocial personality disorder, juvenile delinquency, school dropout, drug abuse, and criminality [1, 4, 9–11]. There is fairly broad theoretical agreement that conduct problems develop and are maintained through dynamic interactions among child, parental, peer, and environmental factors [1, 3, 12–14]. These factors include attachment patterns [15], emotion socialization [16], parenting [14], emotion understanding, and regulation skills [17] among others. These findings fit well with social-constructivist perspectives in which individual characteristics influence the parent-child interaction/socialisation which facilitate children’s sociocognitive and behavioral development [18, 19]. Crittenden [20] argued that attachment patterns are self-protective strategies that are initially learned in interactions with attachment figures in early childhood and continue to develop across the lifespan. Securely attached adults are comfortable depending on others, find it relatively easy to get close to


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