Emotional Climate in Families Experiencing Homelessness: Associations with Child Affect and Socioemotional Adjustment in School

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Abstract

This study examined associations among family-level risks, emotional climate, and child adjustment in families experiencing homelessness. Emotional climate, an indirect aspect of emotion socialization, was indexed by parents' expressed emotion while describing their children. Sociodemographic risk and parent internalizing distress were hypothesized to predict more negativity and less warmth in the emotional climate. Emotional climate was expected to predict observer-rated child affect and teacher-reported socioemotional adjustment, mediating effects of risk. Participants were 138 homeless parents (64 percent African-American) and their four- to six-year-old children (43.5 percent male). During semi-structured interviews, parents reported demographic risks and internalizing distress and completed a Five Minute Speech Sample about their child, later rated for warmth and negativity. Children's positive and negative affect were coded from videotapes of structured parent-child interaction tasks. Socioemotional adjustment (externalizing behavior, peer acceptance, and prosocial behavior) was reported by teachers a few months later. Hypotheses were partially supported. Parent internalizing distress was associated with higher parent negativity, which was linked to more negative affect in children, and parent warmth was associated with children's positive affect. Neither emotional climate nor child affect predicted teacher-reported externalizing behavior or peer acceptance, but parental negativity and male sex predicted lower prosocial behavior in the classroom. Future research directions and clinical implications are discussed.

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