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Temperament, parenting, and prosocial behaviors: Applying a new interactive theory of prosocial development

Temperament, parenting, and prosocial behaviors: Applying a new interactive theory of prosocial development
Meredith McGinley

2008

Department of Psychology, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Lincoln, NE 68588, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

ABSTRACT

The primary purpose of the current study was to examine whether theoretically based interactions between dimensions of children’s temperament and maternal socialization predicted children’s and early adolescents’ prosocial (i.e, helping) behaviors. A new theory was derived by examining how an existing interactive model of early moral development, Kochanska’s (1993) theory of early conscience internalization, would apply to the prediction of prosocial behaviors. Aspects of child temperament and maternal socialization were thought to operate in a different manner from Kochanska’s theory. Unlike early conscience internalization, fearful temperament and parental punishment do not appear to promote prosocial behavior. Moreover, it was thought that children with vulnerable temperaments may especially benefit from maternal responsiveness to children’s distress as the regulation of distressful emotions is necessary before children can help others. The current study thus tested the hypothesis that the relations between responsive parenting and prosocial behaviors would be the most positive for children and early adolescents with vulnerable (i.e., fearful, angry/frustrated, shy) temperaments. It was also expected that the relations between firm discipline and prosocial behaviors would not be positive for individuals with vulnerable temperaments. The current study examined 1,068 (538 girls, 83% White) children across several time points (54 months, 6 and 10, 11, and 12 years) who participated in the NICHD Study of Early Child Care. No support for the hypotheses proposing interactions between maternal socialization and children’s vulnerable temperament was evident. However, partial support was found for main effects such that angry/frustrated temperament was generally negatively related to prosocial behaviors, and maternal responsiveness and firm discipline were generally positively related to prosocial behaviors. Contrary to the hypothesis, fearful and shy temperament were not related to prosocial behaviors and maternal responsiveness did not emerge as a unique predictor in relation to firm discipline. Demographic variables were related to prosocial behaviors; girls were rated as being more prosocial than boys, White children were rated as being more prosocial than minority children, and family income was positively related to prosocial behaviors. These results indicate that interactions between children’s temperament and maternal socialization may not be predictive of children’s and early adolescents’ prosocial behaviors.