Domestic Violence, Emotion Coaching, and Child Adjustment

Katz, L. F., & Windecker-Nelson, B. (2006). Domestic violence, emotion coaching, and child adjustment. Journal of Family Psychology, 20, 56-67.

What is the study about?

Children from domestically violent homes are at-risk for a variety of negative developmental outcomes, including but not limited to anxiety, depression, externalizing problems, and general difficulty with emotion regulation and expression. This study focused on determining if parents in domestically violent homes could effectively assist their children with emotion regulation, otherwise referred to as emotion coaching.

Emotion coaching, or teaching children how to identify, express, and manage their emotions, has been linked to positive outcomes related to overall child adjustment. Additionally, there is increasing evidence that children learn how to regulate their emotions through parent-child interactions. However, because parents residing in households where domestic violence is prevalent may experience difficulty with their own emotion regulation, researchers predicted that these parents would have difficulty teaching emotion regulation skills to their children.

The study also examined whether parents experiencing domestic violence had difficulty coaching their children with specific emotions based on their status as either the perpetrator or victim of the domestic violence. For example, it was hypothesized that parent victims of domestic violence would have difficulty coaching their children with the regulation of fear, as they may find it difficult to manage their own fear. Similarly, parent perpetrators of domestic violence would have difficulty coaching their children in anger management, as they have difficulty managing their own anger.

Finally, researchers assessed whether parental emotion coaching moderated the relationship between children’s exposure to domestic violence and subsequent child behavior problems. Based on previous research in parental meta-emotion philosophy, they hypothesized that poor parental emotion coaching would result in a strong relationship between exposure to domestic violence and child behavior problems. Alternatively, effective parental emotion coaching would result in a weak or perhaps nonexistent relationship between exposure to domestic violence and child behavior problems.

A community-based sample of 130 nuclear families with pre-school aged (4-5 year-old) children was recruited for this study. Each parent was administered a meta-emotion interview, in addition to completing selected self-report measures of domestic violence, marital satisfaction, children’s behavior problems, and family income.

What did the study find?

Results of the study failed to yield a statistically significant relationship between domestic violence and a general deficit in parental emotion coaching, though a marginal association was observed between domestic violence perpetrated by mothers and less emotion coaching. However, results did reveal an association between domestic violence and less parental emotion coaching of anger and fear based on parental status as either the perpetrator or victim of the domestic violence. Furthermore, the study indicated that emotion coaching moderated the relationship between children’s exposure to domestic violence and subsequent child behavior problems. Specifically, mothers’ emotion coaching moderated the relationship between children’s exposure to domestic violence and children’s aggression, withdrawal, and depression-anxiety, whereas fathers’ emotion coaching moderated the relationship between children’s exposure to domestic violence and children’s withdrawal.

How does this relate to the ACT Against Violence program?

As this study suggests, children are particularly vulnerable to domestic violence, and continued exposure may have a long-lasting psychological impact on their developmental trajectory. Children learn to regulate and express their emotions through parent-child interactions and observations of parental behavior. The ACT program underscores the need for parents to learn and implement constructive and effective anger management and conflict-resolution strategies at home. The program helps parents learn to set a positive example for their children by modeling non-violent behaviors.