Parental Responses to Children's Negative Emotions: Relations with Diverse Forms of Prosocial Behavior in Head Start Preschoolers

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Gross, Jacquelyn
Cassidy, Jude
An important predictor of prosocial behavior in childhood is parental response to child distress (PRD). Often, researchers have investigated the link between PRD and broad indices of prosociality. Recent research, however, suggests children’s prosocial behavior is multidimensional, with few studies finding correlations between specific behaviors. The goal of the present study was to investigate links between PRD and children's specific prosocial behaviors, in addition to examining these links among a rarely studied population. Predominantly African American preschoolers enrolled in Head Start (n=141) responded to an experimenter simulating needs; their helping, sharing, and comforting behaviors were recorded, and mothers reported on their PRD. Contrary to hypotheses, PRD did not predict any prosocial behaviors; also unexpectedly, the specific behaviors were correlated. These findings are inconsistent with previous studies, suggesting the multidimensional nature of prosociality, or the hypothesized role of PRD, may not apply to African American children from low-income families.