The most typical approach to examination of children's memory for traumatic experiences is to engage them in structured interviews. In the present research, we examined memory within the context of joint mother-child reminiscing. We took this approach for two reasons. The first was to reduce any stress or discomfort that the children might feel as they talked about what might have been a truly terrifying experience. The second reason for the approach was that it permitted us to examine joint reminiscing in the context of a traumatic event. Since the mid-1980s, it has been apparent that parents—arguably the most significant conversational partners for young children—differ in the ways they support their children's contributions to conversations about past events. Although a number of labels are used to capture the differences, there is consensus that parents exhibit two styles that vary in terms of the parents' contributions to conversations (e.g., Engel, 1986; Farrant & Reese, 2000; Fivush & Fromhoff, 1988; Nelson, 1993; Nelson & Fivush, 2000, 2004). Parents who frequently engage in conversations about the past, provide rich descriptive information about previous experiences, and invite their children to "join in" on the construction of stories about the past are said to use an elaborative style. An example of a conversation between a mother and her 3-year-old child illustrates the elaborative style:
mother: Say, [child's name], what was at Lauren's house a long time ago at her birthday party?
child: [no response]
mother: What did you hold—they were so tiny—at Lauren's house? Remember?
child: A baby. mother: A baby kitty. child: Yeah, a baby kitty.
mother: That's right. Oh and it was so soft. How many kitties did she have? child: Um, five. mother: Uh-huh. That's right. child: And they got away. mother: And they got away from you. Yeah.
In contrast to the elaborative style, parents who provide fewer details about past experiences and instead pose specific questions to their children are said to use a low-elaborative or repetitive style, illustrated by another mother and her 3-year-old child:
mother: [child's name], do you remember going to Sandy's house and playing at her house? child: [nods in agreement] mother: Did they have some kids at her house? child: Yeah.
mother: What kinds of kids were at her house? child: David.
mother: David. Was he the only child that was at her house?
child: [nods in agreement]
mother: What other kids were at her house?
Evidence that these differences reflect varying approaches to memory conversations comes from findings that levels of elaboration are correlated over time (e.g., Reese, Haden, & Fivush, 1993). In addition, mothers show similar patterns with multiple children in the family (Haden, 1998; Lewis, 1999; relevant studies with fathers have not been conducted). Stylistic differences are apparent not only when parents are eliciting memory reports from their children, such as in the examples provided here, but also as events are being experienced and, thus, laid down in memory (Bauer & Burch, 2004; Haden et al., 2001; Tessler & Nelson, 1994).
Both concurrently and over time, children of parents using a more elab-orative style are more involved in conversations about past events than are children of parents using a less elaborative style (e.g., Bauer & Burch,
2004; Fivush, 1991; Fivush & Fromhoff, 1988; Peterson & McCabe, 1994). Both of these patterns are nicely illustrated in longitudinal research by Reese et al. (1993). The researchers examined conversations between mother-child pairs at four time points while the children were between roughly 3 and 6 years of age. There were concurrent correlations bet ween maternal elaborations and children's memory responses at all four time points. That is, at each session, the more elaborations mothers provided, the more memory contributions their children made. There also were correlations over time. For instance, mothers who used more elaborations when their children were 3 years of age had children who at 5 and 6 years made more memory contributions. Largely absent were relations between children's behavior at earlier time points and mothers' behavior at later time points. In fact, the only such relation was between children's behavior at age 5 years and mothers' behavior when their children were aged 6 years. The pattern is consistent with the suggestion that through conversations about the past, children are socialized in the arts of creating and sharing autobiographical narratives (Nelson & Fivush, 2000, 2004).
There have been several replications of findings of differences in maternal approaches to joint conversations about the past, and of relations between variables that define maternal style and children's participation in autobiographical reminiscing (e.g., Bauer & Burch, 2004; Boland, Haden, & Ornstein, 2003; Fivush & Fromhoff, 1988; Hudson, 1990; Lewis, 1999; McCabe & Peterson, 1991; Welch-Ross, 2001). However, almost without exception, they have been examined in the context of conversations about emotionally positive or affectively neutral events. It is rare to find an examination of whether similar relations extend to children's memories of less positive and even traumatic experiences. In light of expectations of quantitative differences, qualitative differences, or both in recollection of traumatic and nontraumatic events, it is possible that we might observe different patterns of parent-child interaction in conversations about the two event types and, as a result, differential socialization.
To date, there has been only one other investigation of this question. The data from Sales et al. (2003) were obtained in the context of mother-child interviews. Sales and her colleagues took advantage of this feature of their design and examined parental verbal behavior across traumatic and more positive events. They found that parents were consistent in their style across the conversations. That is, parents who were elaborative when talking about the positive event also were elaborative when talking about the traumatic event. They also found relations between parental variability and children's behavior in conversations about both types of events. Consistent with previous research, parents who posed more elaborative questions had children who made more contributions to the conversations. Relations between parental style and children's behavior were stronger in the context of discussions of the medical emergencies, relative to more positive experiences (i.e., the correlations were larger in magnitude). The St. Peter tornado study provided us with an opportunity to test for replication of these patterns in another sample. Moreover, because we asked the dyads to converse about the events two times, the study allowed us the unique opportunity to examine not only concurrent relations but relations between maternal and child behavior over time.
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