Children's moral narratives: Links to aggression and early relationships
Ramos-Marcuse, Fatima Maria
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This study addressed connections among young at-risk children's behavioral status, their moral emotion attributions and their attachment relationships. In general, it was expected that children with more behavioral problems would show more antisocial attributions of moral events and emotions involving victimization, and have less favorable attachment relationships with adults. Sixty-three children (24 girls, 39 boys, M = 57.44 months, SD = 8.03 months), their mothers, and their teachers or therapists participated. Thirty-two of these children came from a child mental health clinic. Most of the participants were African-American (47.6%) or Latino (44.4%). Children were administered two separate interviews examining their affectively-charged moral narratives regarding acts of victimization (moral MSSB, MacArthur Story Stem Battery) and their attachment-related narratives (SAT, Separation Anxiety Test). Prior to the first interview, children were assessed for expressive language ability (EOWPVT-Expressive One-Word Picture Vocabulary Test-Revised). In addition, children's teachers or therapists completed assessments of the attachment-like aspects of their relationships with children (STRS, Student-Teacher Relationship Scale), and a measure of children's behavior problems and competencies (CTRF, Caregiver-Teacher Report Form). Children's mothers provided background information and completed a measure of children's behavior problems and competencies (CBCL, Child Behavior Checklist).;Results indicated that, after controlling for child age, gender, socioeconomic status, and expressive language ability, children's reasoning and understanding of acts of victimization (i.e., their moral attributions) were related to adult ratings of their aggression and their more general externalizing behaviors. Somewhat less support, however, was found for the expected connections between children's attachment relationships and ratings of their behavior. Yet, overall, more than half of the total variance in children's externalizing scores could be predicted from a combination of the attachment and moral MSSB variables. Moreover, despite the at-risk status of this sample, many of the children lacked behavior problems, had positive attachment relationships with adults and focused on socially competent themes in their moral narratives. As such, this study lends support to the importance of recognizing within group variability in at-risk populations.