Understanding children's tendencies to hide their feelings: The roles of emotion understanding and impulsivity



Publication Details

Succar, S., Beswick, K. & de Rosnay, M. (2010). Understanding children's tendencies to hide their feelings: The roles of emotion understanding and impulsivity. In F. Pons, M. de Rosnay & P. Doudin (Eds.), Emotions in research and practice (pp. 65-96). Aalborg, Denmark: Aalborg University Press.


Over the past two decades there has been an expansion of research investigating emotion regulation (ER) in children. This research has linked children's ER to both social competence and psychological functioning (Zeman, Cassano, Perry-Parrish & Stegall, 2006). Despite the proliferation of ER studies, there is no consensus in the literature on a single definition of ER (Bridges, Deuham & Ganiban, 2004; Eisenberg & Spinrad, 2004), which currently denotes two types of phenomena: emotion as regulating and emotion as regulated (Cole, Martin & Dennis, 2004). Emotion as regulating refers to changes-typically thoughts and behaviours-that appear to arise from an emotion that is triggered, whereas emotion as regulated refers to changes in the actual emotion that is triggered. Despite the apparent elegance of this putative dichotomy, it remains challenging to provide an account of ER in which such distinctions between different regulatory functions holds (Cole, Martin & Dennis, 2004). Nevertheless, a pragmatic definition can be employed for the purposes of this study, which defines ER as the ongoing process of responding to one's environment with emotions that are both socially acceptable and context-appropriate for a given situation (Cole, Michel, & Teti, 1994). This definition implies that certain situations may require that emotions that would be inappropriate or maladaptive to display be hidden, and incorporates the notion of display rules within the ER construct. Display rules are the expression of culturally appropriate responses to a given social situation, regardless of the real emotion being felt (McDowell, O'Neil, & Parke, 2000). When children conceal how they feel they may hide their emotions but, in keeping with the literature on display rules, they may also express sentiments that contradict their feelings. The existence of this phenomenon in you school-aged children, and the variation occurring between them in its manifestation, arc the objects of this study.

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