Children's expressions of positive emotion are sustained by smiling, touching, and playing with parents and siblings: A naturalistic observational study of family life

Sunhye Bai, Rena L. Repetti, Jacqueline B. Sperling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations

Abstract

Research on family socialization of positive emotion has primarily focused on the infant and toddler stages of development, and relied on observations of parent-child interactions in highly structured laboratory environments. Little is known about how children's spontaneous expressions of positive emotion are maintained in the uncontrolled settings of daily life, particularly within the family and during the school-age years. This naturalistic observational study examines 3 family behaviors-mutual display of positive emotion, touch, and joint leisure-that surround 8-to 12-year-old children's spontaneous expressions of positive emotion, and tests whether these behaviors help to sustain children's expressions. Recordings taken of 31 families in their homes and communities over 2 days were screened for moments when children spontaneously expressed positive emotion in the presence of at least 1 parent. Children were more likely to sustain their expressions of positive emotion when mothers, fathers, or siblings showed positive emotion, touched, or participated in a leisure activity. There were few differences in the ways that mothers and fathers socialized their sons' and daughters' positive emotion expressions. This study takes a unique, ecologically valid approach to assess how family members connect to children's expressions of positive emotion in middle childhood. Future observational studies should continue to explore mechanisms of family socialization of positive emotion, in laboratory and naturalistic settings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)88-101
Number of pages14
JournalDevelopmental psychology
Volume52
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Demography
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies

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