Emotion Regulation Strategies in Preschool Children

  • Gust N
  • von Fintel R
  • Petermann F
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A wide range of emotion regulation strategies is considered a good resource to successfully address developmental challenges and possible critical life events. In the present study, important emotional competences of preschoolers were recorded using the EMK 3-6 (Inventory to survey of emotional competences for three to six-year-olds, Petermann & Gust, 2016b). The ability to identify emotions, recognize their underlying causes, and spontaneously generate emotion regulation strategies, empathy, and prosocial behavior was examined. The study presents the connection between emotion regulation strategies and empathy/prosocial behavior in preschool children. The aim was to examine how children's ability to generate their own effective emotion regulation strategies can influence subsequent prosocial behavior and empathy. Since emotional knowledge is an important prerequisite for the differentiation between emotion regulatory capacity and empathy, this feature was included in the model as a mediator. Age was controlled in every step of each analysis. In a sample of N = 470 (girls n = 230), the emotional competences of 3- to 6year-olds were assessed. Two models were tested for their validity via mediator analyses. Mean values and standard deviations were reported in the overall sample and in two age groups (Group 1: 3.0-4.11, n = 252; Group 2: 5.0-6.5, n = 218). The results of t tests confirmed age differences across all the examined features (emotion regulation strategies: t((468)) = -11.24, p =.000; emotion awareness: t((468)) = -15.49, p =.000; prosocial behavior: t((468)) = -15.84, p =.000; empathy: t((468)) = -14.07, p =.000). No gender differences, as well as no differences in the performance of children with or without migration background, were identified. Correlation analyses showed strong relationships between the investigated features (r =.53- .75, p =.000; controlled for age r =.30- .63, p =.000). In the first model, a significant indirect effect of emotion regulation strategies over emotional awareness on the prosocial behavior (CI95- =.69; CI95+ = 1.27) was shown. There was a partial mediation; 60% variance was explained by this model. In the second model, a significant indirect effect of emotion regulation strategies over emotion awareness on empathy (CI95- =.63; CI95+ = 1.12) was shown. There was complete mediation, and 50% variance was explained. These findings were critically reflected and integrated into current research. Other possible influencing factors were discussed (e.g., temperament, emotion regulation behavior in parents). These results provide important evidence for practice; they suggest that empathy and prosocial behavior can be positively influenced by better emotional awareness. Children may be aided in managing their daily lives and new challenges, potentially leading to a reduction of early behavioral problems.

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  • Nicole Gust

  • Rebekka von Fintel

  • Franz Petermann

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