Theory of mind as a mechanism linking mother–toddler relationship quality and child–friend interaction during the preschool years

Nancy L. McElwain, Niyantri Ravindran, Helen T. Emery, Rebecca Swartz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Children's relationships with parents and peers have been examined as predictors and outcomes, respectively, of theory of mind (ToM). Yet, these two lines of inquiry have remained largely distinct. The current study bridges this gap. Mother–child coordinated interaction and attachment security (continuous rating) were assessed at 2.8 years (N = 128 dyads), ToM was assessed at 3.3, 4.8, and 5.4 years, and child–friend interaction was observed at 4.8 and 5.4 years. Controlling for child expressive language ability at 2.8 years, mother–child coordinated interaction predicted more complex child–friend play and less child–friend conflict via more advanced ToM. No indirect effects from attachment security to friendship quality via ToM emerged. Attachment group status (secure vs. insecure), however, moderated ToM-friendship associations, such that (a) more advanced ToM predicted more socially complex play with friends, and (b) more conflict with friends predicted more advanced ToM, but only for children classified as secure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)998-1015
Number of pages18
JournalSocial Development
Volume28
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019

Keywords

  • child–mother attachment
  • friendship
  • mother–child interaction
  • theory of mind

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)

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