Maternal socialization is associated with prosocial behavior in at-risk young children

Carolyn A. Greene*, Alexis Lighten Wesley, Kimberly J. McCarthy, Erica L. Anderson, Lauren S. Wakschlag, Margaret J. Briggs-Gowan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Prosocial behaviors are a key component of young children’s developing social competence. The current study examines the impact of two types of maternal socialization on young children’s prosocial behaviors: emotional expressiveness (defined as maternal displayed positive and negative affect) and direct coaching of prosocial responses and explores the relationship of these socialization behaviors with mothers’ own histories of psychosocial risk. An ethnically and socioeconomically diverse sample from the United States of 80 mother-child dyads at high risk for violence exposure was assessed when the children were preschool age. All of the maternal emotion socialization behaviors were evaluated by direct observation. The sample included 40 mothers with a history of childhood trauma and 40 mothers without such a history, matched on demographic characteristics. Results indicated that mothers with a history of childhood trauma experiences expressed more positive affect than those without childhood trauma, but the groups did not differ in expressed negative affect or prosocial coaching behaviors. For the full sample, even after controlling for relevant demographic and psychosocial risk factors, socialization behaviors were associated with preschool children’s prosocial behavior. Findings reinforce the critical role of parental socialization behaviors in the development of young children’s peer-directed prosocial behaviors and highlight the importance of helping parents to develop effective socialization skills.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7-19
Number of pages13
JournalVulnerable Children and Youth Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021


  • Emotion socialization
  • early childhood
  • parenting
  • prosocial behavior
  • psychosocial risk

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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