Comparing Mother-Child and Father-Child Emotion Co-Regulation Processes in Relation to Adaptive Functioning in Children with ASD
Objectives: To compare mother-child and father-child emotion co-regulation processes, examined using a dynamic systems approach, in relation to children’s adaptive social functioning.
Methods: Forty-four mother-child and father-child dyads [(75% boys; Mage = 5.37, SD=1.42 years) were videotaped during a semi-structured, 10-minute Three Boxes (Vandell, 1979; NICHD, 1999) play procedure at home. The children were 44% European American, 15% Asian/Asian American, 24% Hispanic/Latino, and 17% multiethnic or other. Clinical reports, the Social Communication Questionnaire (Rutter, Bailey, & Lord, 2003), and ADOS-2 (Lord et al., 2012) were used to screen and diagnose ASD. Positive and negative emotion regulation processes in dyadic mother-child and father-child interaction were coded in 5-second intervals using INTERACT 9.47 software (Mangold, 2007). Intercoder agreement exceeded .90. The observation data were imported into the State Space Grid (SSG) software (Lamey, Hollenstein, Lewis, & Granic, 2004) to operationalize the structure of emotion co-regulation indicated by dispersion (an index of spread of emotional states) and the content of emotion co-regulation indicated by mutual positive interaction and mutual negative interaction. The dependent variable was the adaptive composite scale from parent reports on the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales-II (Sparrow et al., 2005). OLS regressions were used to analyze the data with age of child controlled.
Results: Children were reported to have higher adaptive functioning when they were observed to have less dispersion in their emotion states with their mothers (beta=-.42, p<.05) and fewer mutually negative emotion states with their mothers (beta=-.66, p<.01); the corresponding father-child variable were not significant. Children with ASD showed greater adaptive functioning when they had proportionally more mutually positive emotion states with their fathers (beta=.32, p<.05). Children’s adaptive functioning was lower when parent-child states were mismatched such that children were in negative emotion states while either parent was in positive ones (mother-child dyads- beta=-.30, p<.05; father-child dyads- beta=-.26, p<.10, marginal).
Conclusions: To our knowledge, the current study is the first to compare the emotional structure and content of interaction in dyads of children with ASD and their mothers and fathers using the State Space Grid method. Mother-child emotion regulation processes were more frequently associated with children’s Vineland scores than were father-child processes. However, valences differed in their importance for children: Negative interactions with mothers and positive interactions with fathers were most salient for children’s adaptive functioning.