Nonlinear Dynamics, Psychology, and Life Sciences, Vol. 16, Iss. 3, July, 2012, pp. 269-291
@2012 Society for Chaos Theory in Psychology & Life Sciences


Flexibility and Attractors in Context: Family Emotion Socialization Patterns and Children”s Emotion Regulation in Late Childhood

Erika S. Lunkenheimer, Colorado State University, Ft. Collins, CO
Tom Hollenstein, Queen”s University, Kingston, ON, Canada
Jun Wang, Colorado State University, Ft. Collins, CO
Ann M. Shields, Ann Arbor, MI

Abstract: Familial emotion socialization practices relate to children”s emotion regulation (ER) skills in late childhood, however, we have more to learn about how the context and structure of these interactions relates to individual differences in children”s ER. The present study examined flexibility and attractors in family emotion socialization patterns in three different conversational contexts and their relation to ER in 8-12 year olds. Flexibility was defined as dispersion across the repertoire of discrete emotion words and emotion socialization functions (emotion coaching, dismissing, and elaboration) in family conversation, whereas attractors were defined as the average duration per visit to each of these three emotion socialization functions using state space grid analysis. It was hypothesized that higher levels of flexibility in emotion socialization would buffer children”s ER from the presence of maladaptive attractors, or the absence of adaptive attractors, in family emotion conversation. Flexibility was generally adaptive, related to children”s higher ER across all contexts, and also buffered children from maladaptive attractors in select situations. Findings suggest that the study of dynamic interaction patterns in context may reveal adaptive versus maladaptive socialization processes in the family that can inform basic and applied research on children”s regulatory problems.

Keywords: family interaction, emotion socialization, emotion regulation, dynamic systems