Thinking about feelings: emotion focus in the parenting of children with early developmental risk


Dr Jason K. Baker, University of Miami, Dept. of Psychology, P.O. Box 248185, Coral Gables, FL 33124-0751, USA (e-mail:


Background  Children with developmental delays exhibit more difficulty with certain emotional processes than their typically developing peers, which seems to partially account for the increased risk for the development of social problems in this population. Despite considerable study with typically developing populations, research on parental emotion socialisation in families of children with delays is scarce. This study examined the degree to which parents of children with early delays prioritised emotion relative to other important areas of child development and the degree to which they focused on emotion during relevant interactions with their children.

Method  Families of 8-year-old children with (n = 42) and without (n = 89) early developmental delays completed questionnaires and interviews, and participated in a parent–child emotion discourse task.

Results  As predicted, parents of children with developmental delays reported lower prioritisation of emotion and focused less on emotion during discourse than did parents of typically developing children. A model was supported in which a pathway existed from developmental status through prioritisation to emotion focus. Emotion focus, in turn, predicted children's social skills as reported on by multiple informants.

Conclusions  Parents of children with early developmental delays may focus upon emotion less in their parenting than parents of typically developing children, and related behaviours show associations with children's social skill outcomes. Findings are discussed as an initial step in thinking about the role of emotion socialisation in the families of children with delays.