The Impact of Early Experiences on Empathy and Emotion Regulation Development: Markers of Vulnerability and Resilience

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Amber Newell
Submitted: September 2021


Experiencing maltreatment in childhood can have detrimental and long-term effects on a child’s development. Maltreatment is the main reason for children to be removed from their family settings and to be looked after by alternative caregivers. Research has demonstrated that even after removal from the maltreating context, many children continue to experience persistent socioemotional difficulties. Less is known about the impact of maltreatment on children’s development of empathy and emotion regulation (ER) specifically and the ways that alternative caregiving protects against negative effects of maltreatment. Empathy and ER are key competencies that underpin a wide variety of other socioemotional skills. This thesis presents two related studies. Firstly, a systematic literature review was conducted to consider the literature exploring the impact of alternative caregiving on ER development. Eight studies were included that compared ER between children with and without experiences of maltreatment and subsequent transition to alternative care arrangements. Half of the studies concluded that maltreatment is associated with significantly less ER and an additional two studies found similar, but non-significant results. There are very few studies that have this focus, highlighting a need for further research. Secondly, empathy was assessed in 27 school-age adopted children with a history of maltreatment and compared with empathy measured with 72 non-adopted, non-maltreated children who live with their biological parents. It was hypothesised that maltreatment would have a negative impact on empathy development resulting in the adopted children scoring lower on empathy measures. It was also hypothesised that caregiver and child empathy would be associated and that this relationship would be moderated by maltreatment (group) status. The findings were that adopted children scored lower on parent-report questionnaire and behavioural measures of empathy. There were significant associations between parent and child measures of empathy, but maltreatment status did not significantly moderate this association. Taken together, both studies identify difficulties maltreated children have even within a context of adoption and fostering with empathy and emotion regulation development. The implications of this are discussed broadly and more specifically related to an educational psychology context.

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Adoptive parenting from adolescence to early adulthood

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Leanne Curreli
Submitted: June 2018


Parenting can be challenging at any stage, but when a child goes through adolescence the many physical, emotional, social and cognitive changes mean these challenges are likely to be magnified. The many changes create increasing opportunities for young people to begin exploring their social roles and identity, as well as the rights and the responsibilities that come with those. Whilst the young people are experimenting during this transition, parents may need to provide supervision whilst simultaneously encouraging autonomy and remaining flexible. Parenting is a dynamic process that involves complex interactions between the parent, the young person and their environment. These factors influence the level of responsiveness and supervision provided by a parent in response to their child’s or adolescent’s needs and situation. Within the adoptive family, adolescents can provide an additional level of complexity. Existing literature suggests this is a time of vulnerability in adoptive placements, a time when adoptions are at high risk of placement breakdown. This systematic review explores the literature on the distinctive features of parenting an adopted adolescent. Two main themes were highlighted: parental responsiveness and supervision, and communicative openness, defined as the level of adoption-relevant discussion within an adoptive family. Parental responsiveness was important for adopted adolescents because it allows parents to support adolescent emotional, behavioural and social outcomes, as well as reducing family conflict. Open communication about adoption was found to reduce conflict and increase emotional well-being. Research suggests that being highly attuned and responsive to the young adoptees is linked to greater adoption-related open communication and better outcomes during adolescence.

Traditionally, much of the research regarding adoption has focused on negative outcomes. In recent years, however, the literature has begun to move from risk to resilience (Ferrari, Ranieri, Barni & Rosnati, 2015). Sonuga-Barke, Kennedy, Kumsta, Knights, Golm, Rutter, Maughan, Schlotz and Kreppner (2017) assessed the prevalence of neurodevelopmental and mental health outcomes associated with early deprivation and their persistence into young adulthood. They found that children adopted after six months of age (high risk) had persistently higher levels of neurodevelopmental difficulties and poor life outcomes. The current study utilised longitudinal data from the ERA study (Rutter et al., 1998) to examine if communicative openness during adolescence and associated parenting behaviours, including parental responsiveness and experience of parental adoption journey, predicted the development of resilience in a group of young people from an at-risk sample. The main findings indicated that there were important relationships between aspects of communicative openness, parental responsiveness and parental journey. In addition, the young person’s difficulty discussing their adoption and how and when information was disclosed, were factors relating to the development of resilience from infancy to adulthood. Parental responsiveness and the young person’s own positivity at age four to six years was also related to higher levels of resilience, as was evaluations of adoption, which was found to be stable between each assessment phase. Only higher levels of the young person’s difficulty discussing their adoption at age 15 and higher negative evaluations of adoption significantly predicted/contributed to lower levels of resilience in early adulthood. Lower levels of resilience were associated with poorer educational, emotional and employment outcomes.

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Pillars of Parenting: Exploring Adoptive Parents’ Lived Experiences.

Assignment type: Research Project (Small Scale Research Project, Year 1)
Authors: Alex Gregory, Nikki Samos, Leanne Curreli, Cath Lowther and Hanna Kovshoff
Submitted: Spring 2017

Flawed social, care and education systems have been linked to a high incidence of social, emotional and behavioural difficulties and lower educational attainment for children who have been looked after (Jackson & Martin, 2004). Rather than failing care and education systems, an alternative theoretical explanation for poorer outcomes observed in looked after children, Cameron and Maginn (2011) propose that these children experience “’rejection’ in general and ‘parental rejection’ in particular” (p. 46). This conclusion is based on Parental Acceptance-Rejection Theory (PA-RT), which highlights the need for children to receive positive acceptance from their parents to avoid negative impacts on mental health and well-being (Rohner, Khaleque & Cournonoyer, 2004). Continue reading