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  • Cited by 16
  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: July 2009

4 - Communicating Feelings: Links Between Mothers' Representations of Their Infants, Parenting, and Infant Emotional Development

from Part Two - Research Applications



In the present chapter we explore how mothers' internal working models of their seven-month-old infants organize emotions in the parenting context, and ultimately, influence infant emotion regulation. We propose that mothers' internal working models of their infants function as emotion regulators, and influence a variety of components of the affective organization of parenting, including a) maternal emotion activation, b) qualities of maternal emotional engagement with their infants, and c) emotion regulation strategies mothers employ during emotionally challenging interactions. Results underscore the important role played by emotional processes in explaining the correspondence between maternal and infant emotion regulation strategies.

The relationship with a primary caregiver is the emotional cocoon from which the infant's social and emotional self develops and emerges. Developmentalists from a range of theoretical perspectives have underscored the centrality of the parent–infant relationship for early infant emotional development and emphasize the belief that parent–infant interaction during the earliest months may serve as the foundation for the differentiation of the self (Fonagy, 1999; Mahler, Pine, & Bergman, 1975; Sameroff & Emde, 1989; Winnicott, 1965). In other words, the self is born out of relationships and develops as part of, and within, a specific relational context.

Relationships are inherently affective bonds between individuals, and thus, not surprisingly, affective processes play a central role in the attachment and caregiving behavioral systems.

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