UH professor awarded federal grant to study how parents impact children’s emotions



Credit: University of Houston

Whether they mean to or not, parents teach their children what emotions are acceptable and expected. Julie Dunsmore, a professor at the University of Houston College of Education, has received a federal grant to evaluate these family interactions and study how different parenting styles affect a child’s behavior.

“This grant is going to inform the field of human development and family studies and help us shape programs to better educate parents,” Dunsmore said of the nearly $897,400 award from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

For the study, Dunsmore, a professor of human development and family studies, and her research team will look at pre-recorded videos of parents working with their children to solve a problem. The researchers will watch how the children are affected by emotion coaching, a strategy that involves parents empathizing with their child before addressing any behavior problems. For example, to practice emotion coaching, a parent may rub the child’s back, get at eye level and ask the child what’s wrong.

Dunsmore wants to determine the age groups that respond best to emotion coaching. She also will evaluate emotion coaching to see how the approach is beneficial for children with different temperaments and when it’s more productive to recognize a child’s positive or negative emotions.

“Emotion coaching has been around for quite a while, and when parents take time to understand their child’s emotions, there are better outcomes: less depression, anxiety and ‘acting out’ or external behavioral problems,” Dunsmore said.

Her interest in emotion coaching comes from observing her parents and grandmother. Growing up, Dunsmore saw how her father, a minister, tuned into the emotions of his congregants and how her mother and grandmother, both teachers, made students feel secure to help them learn.

Dunsmore said she hopes the study will improve parents’ relationships with their children.

“It’s OK for children to have emotional experiences,” she said, “and it’s helpful for parents to acknowledge that the children’s experience and perspective are valid.”


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