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Traumatic brain injury (TBI) sustained in childhood is associated with poor social outcomes. This study investigated the role of theory of mind (ToM) as a mediator of the relation between TBI and peer rejection/victimization and reciprocated friendships, as well as the moderating effect of parental nurturance on those relationships.
Participants were children of 8–13 years old (M = 10.45, SD = 1.47), including 13 with severe TBI, 39 with complicated mild/moderate TBI, and 32 children with orthopedic injuries. Data on peer rejection/victimization and friendship were collected in school classrooms using the Extended Class Play and friendship nominations. Parents rated parental nurturance using the Child-Rearing Practices Report. Finally, ToM was measured based on children’s average performance across three tasks measuring different aspects of ToM.
Severe TBI was associated with poorer ToM, greater peer rejection/victimization, and fewer reciprocated friendships. ToM mediated the relation between severe TBI and peer rejection/victimization (i.e., severe TBI predicted poorer ToM, which in turn predicted greater rejection/victimization). Parental nurturance significantly moderated this relation, such that the mediating effect of ToM was significant only at low and average levels of parental nurturance, for both severe and complicated mild/moderate TBI groups. Neither the mediating effect of ToM nor the moderating effect of parental nurturance was significant for reciprocated friendships.
High parental nurturance may mitigate the negative effects of ToM deficits on risk of peer rejection/victimization among children with TBI. Interventions designed to increase parental nurturance or ToM may promote better social outcomes among children with TBI.
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