What do Words Really Say? An Examination of Associations between Preschool Emotion Language and Emotional Development

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Virginia Tech

This study examines associations of emotion language with emotion understanding and emotion regulation during the preschool years. There is evidence that the way parents talk about emotions with their children promotes children's emotion understanding and regulation (e.g. Bird and Reese, 2006; Laible, 2011). However, there has been little attention paid to associations of these outcomes with children's emotion language. In this study, I examined associations of children's emotion language on their emotion understanding and emotion regulation, and tested whether parents' emotion language was indirectly associated with these outcomes through children's emotion language. One hundred fifty-six 3- to 5-year-old children participated with their primary caregiver. Parent-child dyads engaged in an emotion-laden conversation to measure parent and child emotion language. Children also engaged in the locked box task (Cole et al., 2009; Goldsmith et al., 1993) to measure emotion regulation and completed the Diagnostic Analysis of Nonverbal Accuracy (Nowicki and Duke, 1994) to measure emotion understanding. Results differed for younger preschoolers (36 - 53 months) compared with older preschoolers (54 - 69 months) in regard to emotion regulation. For younger preschoolers, path analyses indicated an indirect effect in which parent emotion talk was associated with less attention shifting during the locked box task. There was also a direct effect in which children's greater use of emotion labels was positively associated with emotion understanding. Results may reflect the rapid emotional development occurring during the preschool years and suggest the importance of early emotion socialization.

emotion language, emotion understanding, emotion regulation, emotion socialization