Photo by: Francisco Carbajal via Flickr
A toddler's negative behavior can easily affect a mother's psychological state, thereby influencing her ability to parent effectively.A new study by researchers from the University of Illinois has brought this truth to light.
Parents respond differently when their child becomes upset and start displaying negative emotions or behavior.While some control the situation by calming the child and bringing sense back, others get distressed too and act out to stop the situation.
Earlier studies had shown that a mother's reaction to her child's emotion and behavior can influence and even predict whether the child will be able to develop the ability to be in more control of their emotions in the future.The new study looked into potential predictors of mothers' response -- supportive or otherwise -- when their children face emotional challenges.Their goal was not to point out "bad mothers" but rather to help parents prepare on how to handle their children better when they tend to display repulsive behavior.
Niyantri Ravindran, a doctoral student at the University of Illinois who was involved in the research, explained that maternal support includes behaviors like understanding and allowing the child's experience, as well as comforting the child and guiding him/her accordingly, to nurture parental requests.It may also mean, depending on the situation, distracting the child from that which causes him/her to act inappropriately.
Negative maternal support like ignoring the behavior or punishing the child for it may make the child more suppressive of their emotions.This would, in turn, result in the child lacking the knowledge on how to manage their emotions effectively.
Because of how important maternal support is to a child's emotional and behavioral development, Ravindran, along with Nancy McElwain, a professor of human development and family studies, examined how distressed moms could get when their children display negative emotions.This was to help them try and find out how much support mothers give their children in the occurrence of such events.
In the study, 127 toddlers were asked to participate with their mothers in a simple and short experimental exercise.They were all put in different rooms.The mother was given a bunch of paperwork to fill out while the toddler was left on a seat and a snack, put in a clear lunchbox, was placed on the table.The child was not to have the snack until told to while the mother was to focus on the paperwork and keep the child from opening the lunchbox.The snack was to be delayed for about 5-7 minutes during which the child's behavior would be noted, as well as the mother's response.
Ravindran reported that they observed minor disruptive behavior from most children.They would grab their mom's pen or just try to get their mother's attention.Others tried to reach and open the lunchbox while others were quite extreme for their mothers.
Mothers responded in various ways too to their children's behaviors.Some distracted the children from the snack; others validated their child's behavior, and others even reasoned out with their children, telling them why they couldn't have the snack.On the other hand, some mothers ignored their children, others carried their children away, and others took the lunchbox away from their children.
Then they filled out questionnaires about their responses to such distressful situations.For example, mothers rated their tendency to become upset themselves when their child falls, gets hurt, and becomes upset.Their findings were very interesting.
The team observed that mothers who became distressed practiced lower levels of observed supportive behavior during the exercise.Only after the child had shown extreme levels of aversive behavior than they normally did was when they responded in a supportive way.
"So for mothers who reported higher distress levels, when their child acted disruptively in one 15-second interval, the mothers showed less support in the next 15-second interval.There is a time lag between the child's behavior and the mom's response." Ravindran explained.
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This time lag is key.It tells a lot about the child-mother relationship and behavior.McElwain explains that if the association was to happen within the same time interval, no one would still be able to tell which plays as the cause and which as the effect.However, since the child's behavior in one interval influenced the mother's behavior in the next interval, it is possible to infer that the child's behavior leads to the mother's behavior.This is manifested more among mothers who have high dispositional distress.
Ravindran concludes by saying that based on the study, parents should be more mindful as of how they respond to their children when they are distressed.The researchers also stressed that challenging as it may be for parents to handle their children during their distressed moments, it is also the best time for them to teach the children about emotions because the toddler years provide many opportunities for parents to talk to their children about emotions.