Talking About Feelings: Mother–Child Emotion Dialogues Among Sexually Abused Children

Ivanka van Delft, Catrin Finkenauer, J. Clasien de Schipper, F. Lamers-Winkelman

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Mother-child dialogues about children's emotional experiences are associated with children's adaptive coping with stressful situations and mental health. Despite these findings, dialogues have not been examined yet in the context of child sexual abuse. This gap is surprising given that mother-child dialogues may particularly promote children's recovery from traumatic events. The current exploratory study examined the quality of mother-child emotion dialogues, as well as the quality of child and maternal contributions to dialogues, among dyads with sexually abused children ( n = 30; 60% female; M age = 8.03), as compared with dyads with nonabused children ( n = 30; 60% female; M age = 8.20). Quality of dialogues was assessed using the Autobiographical Emotional Events Dialogue. Mothers reported on their own childhood maltreatment history and psychopathological symptoms. Results showed that dyads with abused children were more likely to engage in overwhelming/excessive dialogues and dialogues lacking content, as compared with dyads with nonabused children. After controlling for differences in background characteristics, mothers of abused children showed lower sensitive guidance. Although mothers of abused children had more experiences of childhood maltreatment and higher levels of psychopathology, they did not add to explain group differences in maternal sensitive guidance. Our findings suggest that the ability to discuss emotional experiences may be impaired among mother-child dyads with sexually abused children. This may be an important target in the treatment of sexually abused children and their families.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Interpersonal Violence
Issue number9-10
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018


  • mother–child emotion dialogues, meaning making, child sexual abuse, child


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