London: Family environment during pregnancy and a baby’s first year of birth predicts the way the child develops emotionally, a study found.
The results highlight the importance of the family system in children’s emotional development along with the early mother-child relationship.
“The children may have developed these emotional regulation strategies in order to adapt to their family environment. This adaptation may partly explain the children’s later risk for anxiety disorders and difficulties in social relationships,” said Jallu Lindblom from University of Tampere in Finland.
The participants in the study were 79 ten-year-old children from different family types and were shown pictures of happy faces and angry faces.
The research used a technique called the dot probe task that is based on reaction speed, which indicates automatic and often unconscious ways of dealing with emotion.
The results were interpreted from the point of view of emotional regulation.
The children from cohesive families — family where parents have a good marital relationship and have a close relationship with the baby — first pay attention to the threatening stimuli, but subsequently disengage from such stimuli.
Disengaging from threatening stimuli also demonstrates an efficient and flexible ability to regulate negative emotional experiences.
However, children from disengaged families — they first focused their attention towards the threatening stimuli, but then, unlike the first group, moved their focus away from the stimuli rather than disengaging from them.
Children from enmeshed families — families where the parents have difficulties in maintaining family boundaries and lack self-confidence — focused their attention towards the threatening stimuli and kept their attention on them.
Getting stuck on threatening stimuli is often associated with difficulties in regulating negative emotional experiences.
“This research widens the scope of the dominant conception in attachment theory, which highlights the importance of the mother-child relationship. The family should be regarded as a whole, including early parenting by fathers and the marital relationship. This is something that should be taken into account in child health clinics and antenatal classes,” Lindblom stated.