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Empathic Communication During Mother-Adolescent Conflict Management


Interpersonal conflict management is a context in which empathy and emotion regulation can be both challenging and of vital necessity. The present study examined the effects of empathic communication on conflict management between mother-adolescent dyads (N = 50). Mother-adolescent dyads engaged in a 10-minute discussion of a topic of frequent conflict in their relationship. Following the discussion, mothers and adolescents independently completed a post-conflict discussion questionnaire to assess their satisfaction with the discussion. Emotional behaviors during the discussion were coded using the Specific Affect Coding System (SPAFF). Empathic communication was coded as (1) validation and (2) interest in the other's perspective and feelings. The present study explored several questions related to (1) adolescent age differences in mother and adolescent empathic communication and conflict management, and (2) relations between empathic communication and conflict management. Notably, older adolescents and their mothers displayed more validation than younger adolescents and their mothers. Furthermore, mother's validation was marginally positively correlated with adolescents' satisfaction with the discussion, and this relation was mediated by the degree to which adolescents perceived that their mother understood their point of view and feelings during the discussion. Findings indicate that empathic communication in response to adolescent negative emotion plays a unique role in effective conflict management between mothers and adolescents. Implications for research on empathy and interventions targeted at facilitating effective conflict management between parents and adolescents are discussed.

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