Emotion and Conversation in the Toddler Years: Exploring Child-level, Parent-level and Family-level Determinants of Parent-toddler Conversational Engagement

Open Access
Olivieri, Margaret Anne
Graduate Program:
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
October 03, 2014
Committee Members:
  • Pamela Marie Cole, Thesis Advisor
  • parent-child conversation
  • emotion expression
  • toddlerhood
The thesis investigated the role of toddler positive and negative emotion expression in relation to the frequency of parent-toddler conversational engagement. Specifically, higher frequency of toddler positive emotion expression was expected to relate to greater conversational engagement (more successful initiations, more conversational responses, more elaborations, and fewer failed attempts to initiate conversation), whereas higher frequency of toddler negative emotion expression was expected to relate for fewer successful initiations, fewer conversational responses, fewer elaborations and more failed attempts to initiate. Measures of toddler emotion expression and parent-toddler conversation were derived from naturalistic home observations of rural and semi-rural economically strained families when the target child was 18 months old. These relations were examined while controlling for toddler expressive vocabulary size and while taking into consideration known correlates of parent language input and child language development (family income-to-needs ratio, parent education, and parent perceived daily hassles). The relations were examined separately for mothers and fathers. Contrary to expectations, toddler negative emotion expression related to few aspects of parent-toddler conversational engagement, although there was a significant interaction of mothers’ hassles and toddler negative emotion expression. However, for fathers, toddler positive emotion expression accounted to significant variance in multiple aspects of father-toddler conversational engagement. For mothers, toddler expressive vocabulary size and maternal education consistently accounted for mother-toddler conversational engagement. For fathers, toddler positive emotion expression and, to a lesser extent, family income-to-needs ratio and an inverse relation of paternal education accounted for variance in father-toddler conversational engagement.