Being-With: An analysis of parental responses to young children’s emotional expressions
There is limited research on how parents respond to their children’s emotions, both positive and negative, and how the type of emotion and internal processes of the parent are linked to their responses. The current study focuses on the construct of “being-with” (i.e., the degree to which a parent is emotionally available, accepting, and in-tune with their child’s emotions). The goal of this study was to develop and assess The Being-With Questionnaire, a measure aimed at assessing a parent’s ability to be-with their child’s different emotions when directed at the parent, to examine patterns in being-with, and to explore the relatedness of patterns in being-with to other factors of the parent–child relationship. Parents of 147 children ages 3-5.99 years (Mean age= 4.44, standard deviation= 0.85) were invited to participate, with either 1 or 2 parents contributing for each child (total N = 240; 58% mothers; 41% fathers). Participants completed an online survey including parental self-report measures and parental reports of child behavior and characteristics. Results suggested that, on average, parents reported a greater tendency to be-with a child’s positively-valanced emotions (i.e., happiness, excitement, kindness) relative to a child’s negatively-valanced emotions (i.e., sadness, anger, fear). Within children’s expressions of negative emotions, parents reported they were more likely to be with these emotions when they were viewed as justified rather than unjustified. Looking within parents, parents who experience more emotions that treat a child’s emotion as legitimate (e.g., attentive) were more likely to respond to their child’s emotion with being-with behaviors. These results have implications for both understanding situations in which parents may be less likely to be with their children as well as identifying subsets of parents who may particularly benefit from interventions aiming to encourage supportive parental responses to the emotional expressions of their children.