The emotional basis of aversive parenting : mothers’ affective sensitivity to children’s aversiveness and reactivity

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Scott, Justin Kyle

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This study examined whether the affective processes of aversion-sensitivity, a pronounced tendency to be negatively aroused by the ongoing aversive properties of children’s behavior, regulate mothers’ aversive parenting behavior with children. On days when mothers are aversion-sensitive, they may experience negative emotional arousal when faced with difficult child behavior, leading them to be motivated to reduce their distress by removing the child behaviors that cause it. Using observed, sequential data from 319 divorcing mothers and their 4- to 11-year-old children across six assessments (over two years), multilevel models were estimated to predict a set of emotion-related parenting behaviors. Results demonstrated that within-mother increases in aversion-sensitivity predicted mothers’ displays of parenting behavior that tend to elicit negativity in children (i.e., mothers’ aversive parenting behavior), volatile fluctuations in aversive parenting behavior, tendencies to display extreme behavior that is beyond one standard deviation both above (spikes) and below (drops) mothers’ mean aversiveness, inclinations to remain high in aversiveness following spikes, and reductions in the ability to maintain low aversiveness following drops. Aversion-sensitive mothers’ tendencies to emit aversive and volatile parenting behavior were pronounced on days that children were aversive and negatively reactive. The results demonstrate the importance of emotional reactivity to aversive child inputs as a potential regulator of aversive parenting behavior. Applied to coercive family processes, the results suggest that the volatile and reciprocally negative family patterns that predict externalizing behaviors in children may rest in part on emotional processes reflected in aversion sensitivity. Knowledge of these processes may help explain why in some families stress, socio-economic disadvantage, difficult child temperament, and other factors predict aversive family patterns linked to child adjustment problems.


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