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Emotion regulation features of foster Infants

Scientific organization
St. Petersburg State University
Academic degree
Scientific discipline
Life Sciences & Medicine
Emotion regulation features of foster Infants
Emotional regulation (ER) considered in the context of infant attachment. Children living in different conditions of family environment may have quantitative and qualitative differences in the styles of ER (constructive, destructive). We consider three groups of children: traditional-type of baby home, family-type of baby home and foster families.
DAM evaluates the emotion expression of the child and caring adult in 5 situations. Stressful situations (separation from adults) should activate most frequently used ER strategies that will enable us to assess their effectiveness.
foster care, institutionalization, Baby Home, emotion regulation, DAM


In the middle of last century Early Intervention Psychology has identified the importance of social and emotional development of man in early childhood and its impact on the rest of his life. Particular attention was paid to the emotional relationship between child and mother in connection with the separation from her in the period of hospitalization (Bowlby, 1969; Ainsworth, 1978). Concerning to date there is no doubt that the sensitive period for the construction of an emotionally stable relationship between mother and child is the early childhood (Mahler, 1975; Winnicott, 1949, 1965; Stern, 1985; Klein, 1920). It is also known that the presence of constant close adult in the absence of the mother may somehow offset the effects of deprivation (Elinor W. Ames, 1997).

The most striking example of such a study is a project with Romanian orphanages, when some of them were adopted by families from Canada. Early-adopted group of Infants (before they were 4 month of age) were for the most characteristics of social-emotional development as a Canadian-born group (never-institutionalized children living with their birth parents), but there were many differences between this 2 groups and Romanian children, who had spent somewhere between 8 and 53 month in orphanage.

Children abilities to understand and accept their own emotions largely depend on feedback from mother/close adult. The lemmas of emotional control strategies  in future is resolving specific to early childhood (2-3 years) of the internal contradictions. Such conflicts may arise because of strong experiences during the frustrating situation, which are caused by short or long-term separation from care adult (mother). Mother’s sensitivity to children emotion conditions determined how an Infant would regulate own affects. The influence of the social environment (mostly family) on the emotional sphere of the child is described in detail in many foreign issues (Morris, Silk, Steinberg, Robinson, 2007; Ramsden, & Hubbard, 2002; et al.). Therefore we are interested in the situation of institutionalized children and foster families, because there are many studies of institutionalized effects to child mental health and physiology. For example, institutionalization were considering like early-life stress, such as maltreatment and exposure to violence, which associated telomere shortening (Asok, Bernard, Roth, Rosen, Dozier, 2013). Authors found association between early-life stress (high-risk children) and telomere length; also they examined the role of parental responsiveness in buffering children from telomere shortening following experiences of early-life stress. Next groups of studies are connected with cortisol (stress hormone) production. It was examined differences in level of cortisol between children from biological (birth parents) and foster families. High-risk children who were living with birth parents had more high level of cortisol in waking to bedtime then children placed in foster care (Bernard; Butzin-Dozier; Rittenhouse; Dozier). We can observe how environments influence to children. Another interesting result is connected with attachment and cortisol level. Infants with attachment disorganization showed cortisol’s increasing in Strange Situation then organized infants (Bernard, Dozier, 2010). In orphanage more children have disorganization type of attachment (not secure attachment) that’s why in stress (strange) situation they don’t use constructive strategies of emotion regulation (Muhamedrahimov, 2009).

Also we wanted to notice studies with Infant's emotional regulation. In study where researches assess emotional expression in child's face, they found some phenomena connected with negative and positive affects: children in orphanage show less negative affects in separation-reunion (stress) situation with care adult and more positive affects. Why happened this? Why we see increasing positive affects when infant should demonstrate sadness or angry (adult leave him in play time without warning)? Authors explain that fact as a specific characteristic of strategy to achieve the goal. Objective might be an attention of care adult, strategy to keep connection and regulate own emotions (Muhamedrahimov, 2008). This is an example of how the children do not learn to express their negative affects in a constructive manner, thereby hidden negative emotions found other ways to exit (eg, stereotypes and aggression).

Emotional sphere and ways of its regulation are inextricably linked with cognitive and behavioral processes of the child's psyche. It is also stable and balanced emotional state is a prerequisite for the development of intellectual processes. Thus, a child who is constantly experiencing severe emotional distress and can’t regulate them (constructive ways) will be different from the one who has developed (from care adult) emotional regulation strategies, enabling it to function properly.

Describing these studies we want to demonstrate the importance and urgency of the problem being studied. In this study we are interested in the possibility of compensating the family of the consequences of deprivation in children. With the development of the adoption system and practice of placing children in foster families increases the relevance of studying the characteristics of the most dominant areas in child’s regulation at this age period - emotional. Due to the fact that children have not yet formed a system of self-regulation and emotion exhibited by them are more biological rather than social, i.e. more sincere and truthful, so it is possible to observe their expression through verbal and non-verbal components in situations of interaction with care adults, as well as the situation in his absence (stressful, frustrating situation). It is also known that the foundations of emotional regulation are laid in early childhood (Eisenberg, Spinrad, Eggum, 2010). So what strategies can be used by children to regulate their condition (emotions, behavior)? According to the observations of children in the experiment with marshmallow authors identified frequently used effective strategies (Eisenberg and Sulik, 2012):

1. Shifting attention away from a distressing stimulus or a tempting object can decrease arousal;

2. Focusing attention on positive aspects of the situation or on other means of coping also can decrease negative emotion;

3. Verbal control in the form of speech or singing;

4. Focus on the desired subject (less efficient).

This is only a small part of the repertoire of emotional regulation infants. Each situation is forcing to use one or the other (better acceptable) style of regulation. In a broader sense, even crying and screaming child a means of emotional regulation. But what kind of strategy will be presented in the repertoire of the child depends on many aspects: temperament, family background, marital relations and conflicts (Cummings, Davies, 2002), physical and mental health (Stansbury, Gunnar, 1994), gender (Chaplin, Cole, Zahn-Waxler, 2005), quality of relationships with adults and peers (Contreras, Kerns, Weimer, Gentzler, Tomich, 2000), etc.

It is not enough studied foster care system due to the emotional development of the child as an independent person and in the context of building an emotionally stable relationship with a close adult.

The above problems are not characteristic of all institutionalized children. Children from family-type baby homes may differ significantly from children in traditional-type baby homes. Also the differences may be related to culture, place, social environment characteristics. Children from China and Eastern Europe (institutionalized) participated in two tasks on the understanding of emotions: it was necessary to choose the image with the appropriate facial expressions of emotion (joy, sadness, anger and fear) and then identify facial expressions in history, describing the characteristic of these emotions situations.

 While the group of institutionalized children got lower results compared with the control group (never- institutionalized), children from China show better results in emotion understanding than children from Eastern Europe. Post-institutionalized children’s performance was predicted by their age at adoption (Camras, Perlman, Fries, Pollak, 2006).

We mentioned a little about the causes that underlie the effects of deprivation - a dysfunctional relationship of the child and care adult, disorganization attachment. With regard to children from baby homes there is a lot depends on the pace of life and daily routine in which the children reside. Caregiver should observe to the whole group (6 to 15 children) did not allow him to pay due attention to each child. To build a secure attachment, strong relationships that will act as a resource for the child require special organization of the environment (in the broad sense).

In the study examined time use of children in Russian baby homes are presented detailed results of how much time and what to spent the children: 50% of the time they spent alone, 27% with a caregiver, 15% with another adult and only 7% with other children. The younger the child, the more time a child spends alone (infants to 65%). Children spend a lot of time on non-purposeful activity (Tirella, Chan, Cermak, Litvinova; Salasand, Miller, 2007).

Measures with videotaping became very popular in assess attachment, emotions, behavior etc. They have proven their validity and reliability (Clark, 1999; Muhamedrahimov, 1999).



For the pilot study participants included 30 couples (infant-care adult) of ranging in age from 8 to 48 month:

  • Foster families – 10 couples
  • Traditional-type of Baby Home – 10 couples
  • Family-type of Baby Home – 10 couples


DAM (Dyadic Affect Manual, Osofsky, Muhamedrahimov, Hummer, 1998).

We used the DAM to assess quantitative and qualitative characteristics of emotion expression and Infant’s behavior in interaction and separation situations. To study the emotion we produced video of Infants and their care adults in five situations, namely:

1 –free play (3 minutes)

2 – first separation (care adult leave a room for 3 minutes)

3 – first reunion (care adult comes back in to the room and play with child for 3 minutes)

4 – second separation (care adult again leave a room for 3 minutes)

5 – second reunion (care adult comes back in to the room and last time play with child for 3 min).

Instruction for parents: “Play please with child the way you usually do. When you hear a signal as knocking please leave the room and come back with next knocking. You have to leave the room twice, but the second time you should warn the child like ‘I’m going out’, ‘I will come back’ etc. By the way you can return at any time if you want”.

The diagnostic purpose of separation and reunion episodes is to assess the child's response to a situation of frustration and the change of emotional state when care adult returns.

In a situation of frustration remaining alone children express / suppress their emotions or use some emotion more often, then others and can vary the intensity. All this can be considered as an emotional regulation strategies.

In each episode, three minute intervals allocated for 30 seconds and coded next indicators:

  • 4 positive affects (joy, interest, excitement, surprise)
  • 4 negative affects (distress, sadness, anger, fear)
  • Gross motor
  • Manipulative
  • Stereotype movements
  • Aggression to object
  • Aggression to people

The intensity of each emotion is estimated from 1 to 5 points and then coder chooses the maximum intensity of each emotion for the episode. In addition calculated the sum of all positive (general positive emotional tone) and negative affects (general negative emotional tone).

Object: emotional regulation

Subject: emotions and behavior characteristics of Infants in foster families

The hypothesis of the study: we expect that infants in 3 groups will have different characteristics of emotion regulation because of their social environment. Namely, children in foster care group will use less dysfunctional forms of emotional regulation than children from 2 Baby Homes.


This study is conducted on the basis of the grant "Influence of early deprivation on biological and behavioral indicators of child development", supported by the Government of the Russian Federation. The results, which we will get to September in to pilot study  will help us to understand in which direction should move on. And on this basis we hope to formulate recommendations for the employees of baby homes, the foster parents, professionals (psychologists, psychotherapists, and others.). All data (a video) are analyzed by specially trained people with appropriate qualifications and the level of consistency in the results of at least 95%.