Emotion Co-Regulation in Parent-Child Dyads with Externalizing and Typically-Developing Children
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Children's difficulties with regulating or controlling emotion are associated with externalizing problems (Eisenberg et al., 2001). Emotion regulation develops through interactions with caregivers during childhood, where children are socialized about the management and expression of emotions (Kopp, 1989). The parent-child relationship is thus one factor associated with children's externalizing problems and, to date, research on children’s externalizing problems has focused on relationships with parental emotion socialization and parent-child emotions (Granic & Lamey, 2002; Lengua, 2006). However, parent-child co-regulation— the bidirectional process whereby individuals mutually regulate emotions with others (Fogel, 1993)— is also likely a proximal factor in children's externalizing problems. Over time, dyadic patterns emerge and are reinforced through co-regulation, and children develop regulated or dysregulated emotional patterns with their parents (Granic & Lamey, 2002). Co-regulation is also likely related to differences in externalizing symptomatologies, as dyads with children with co-occurring externalizing and internalizing problems (MIXED) show more mutual hostility over the course of a conflict than dyads with purely externalizing children (EXT; Granic & Lamey, 2002). The current study examined co-regulation in 255 parent-child dyads, of which 80 had EXT children (73% male), 111 had MIXED children (87% male), and 64 had typically-developing children (63% male). Children were between the ages of 8 and 12 (M = 9.56). Behaviours during positive and conflict discussions were coded with a new observational tool, the Co-Regulation of Emotion (CORE) coding system. CORE's validity was supported with associations with independent raters’ impressions of the interactions. Generally, co-regulation was higher during the conflict as compared to the positive discussions, as expected. Contrary to hypotheses, dyads with EXT and MIXED children did not show more non-supportive co-regulation than dyads with typically-developing children, and dyads with typically-developing children did not show more supportive co-regulation. Similarly, group differences on the association between interaction partners' supportive and non-supportive co-regulation and negative affect were not significant. Overall, MIXED dyads did not show more non-supportive co-regulation than EXT dyads, as had been expected. The findings did not support the hypothesis that emotion co-regulation differentiates dyads with externalizing children from dyads with typically-developing children in middle childhood.