Maternal Emotions During Mother-Toddler Interaction: Parenting in Affective Context

Sarah E. Martin, Mari L. Clements, Keith A. Crnic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Objective. This study explored the emotional experiences of mothers in interacting with their 2-year-old children and examined interrelations among maternal emotion, family distress, and observations of parenting sensitivity. Design. Sixty mothers and their 2-year-old children were observed interacting during both enjoyable (free play) and challenging (waiting) interaction tasks, and mothers provided self-report information about their emotional experiences during each task. Mothers also completed self-report measures to assess family distress. Results. Mothers experienced and expressed a range of positive and negative emotions during interactions with their toddlers, however, mothers' expressed (observed) and experienced (self-reported) emotions were generally uncorrelated. Mothers reported experiencing more positive emotion during interactions characterized by less child negativity and less negative emotion during interactions characterized by child expressions of positive emotion. Mothers' self-reported emotional experiences during interactions with their children moderated the associations between family distress (as reported by mothers) and sensitive parenting behaviors (as observed during parent-child interaction). Conclusions. Findings support a conceptualization of parenting as multiply determined by child, parent, and family contextual factors, with emotion serving an integral role. Results are also discussed with regard to parenting emotion as a potential target for intervention in distressed families.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)105-126
Number of pages22
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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