Toward a holistic view of parents' discourse: Indirect communication as an emotion socialization strategy

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Virginia Tech

Parents teach their children about emotions through a process called emotion socialization and one way that they can do so is through shared discussions about emotions. Research in developmental psychology indicates that parental emotion socialization strategies through discourse such as elaboration and labels and explanations are related to children's emotion understanding and social competence. In the current study, I apply the concept of indirect communication, which has been used in linguistics since the 1970s, to parental emotion socialization with preschool-age children (n= 55; 31 females, 24 males). I define indirect communication as parental speech in which the form and function of a subject-verb phrase do not match and examined relations of parental indirect communication to the previously established strategies in developmental psychology of elaboration and use of labels and explanations. To understand whether this type of communication may influence children's development, I also examined relations of indirect communication to preschoolers' emotion understanding and social competence. Results indicate that parental indirect communication during positive events was related to parental explanations during negative events. Parental indirect communication did not significantly predict children's emotion understanding or social competence, but showed a trend for the association between indirect communication during negative event discussions and children's nonstereotypical emotion understanding. However, the direction for this association was opposite than hypothesized. These results do not suggest consistency of indirect communication across positive and negative event discussions as an emotion socialization strategy.

social competence, emotion understanding, emotion socialization, indirect communication