Children’s reactions to maternal feedback: Is it what she says or how she says it?
Federoff, Allison, H.
The aim of this study was to examine children’s affective, cognitive, and behavioral responses to maternal feedback that varied with regard to content and tone. Participants were 62 children ages four to five years old (M = 59.82 months, SD = 7.35) recruited from local pre-schools, volunteer lists, and the medical school listserv. Children were read three stories in which the child did something (e.g., drawing, writing, building) and made a small mistake. They were randomly assigned to receive one of four types of feedback. The content of the feedback was either neutral or negative, and the tone was either neutral or negative. After hearing a story and receiving feedback, children answered a series of questions about their feelings, self-evaluation, expectations, and causes of the event, and about the mother’s feelings and evaluation of the child’s product. Mothers reported about their current level of depressive symptoms and their parenting behavior. Multiple regression analyses examined the main effects and two-way interactions of content (neutral vs. negative), and tone (neutral vs. negative). Separate analyses were conducted that included children’s age, maternal depression, and parenting as possible moderators. Results revealed that the content of mothers’ words affected children’s reported affect, cognitions, and behaviors, and these relations tended to vary by children’s age. Older children responded to neutral feedback more positively than younger children, and older children gave higher mother liking ratings in the neutral than in the negative content feedback conditions. Children receiving negatively toned feedback responded more helplessly to a puzzle task compared to those receiving neutrally toned feedback. Neither current maternal depressive symptoms nor parenting moderated the relations between condition and children’s responses.