Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


Cross-Cultural Study of Toddlers Emotion Regulation Strategies in a Waiting Task: A comparison between US and Israeli Toddlers


Psychology Department


College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Date Range



Social and Behavioral Sciences


During the transition from toddlerhood to preschool age, children begin developing the ability of self-regulation (Calkins, 2007). Emotion self-regulation is associated with social competence, emotional well-being, and psychological functioning (Thompson & Goodwin, 2007). This study explores toddlers negative emotion expression and regulatory attempts in a waiting task in a cultural perspective, comparing European American with Israeli Arab and Jewish toddlers. We expected that independent strategies like distraction are the most effective strategies to down-regulate negative affect. Toddlers can also turn to the mother but the effectiveness may depend on mothers sensitive reactions to the toddlers request (Ekas et al., 2011). Aggressive behavior and focus on delay object will be most ineffective and rather up-regulate toddlers negative affect. The European American (EA) and Israeli-Jewish cultures are individualistic (Hofstede & Hofstede, 2005) but European American mothers put more emphasis on independence training in toddlerhood (Rosenthal & Roer-Strier, 2001). In spite of a modernization process, young Israeli-Arab children are still expected to be obedient and disciplined and high emotion control is required (Haj-Yahia, 1995). We expected that EA toddlers will express negative affect more than Israeli-Jewish and both groups more than Israeli-Arab toddlers. We also predicted that EA toddlers use more independent strategies, whereas both Israeli groups refer more to their mother to regulate their negative affect. EA toddlers (n = 51; 26 boys) and Israeli toddlers (Israeli-Jewish n = 30; 16 boys and Israeli-Arab n = 30; 16 boys) participated in a waiting task. A cookie was placed on the table and the child had to wait until the mother finished the survey (4 minutes). Toddlers behavior was coded in 5s intervals for frequency and intensity of emotion expressions (0-3) as well as for 8 strategies condensed into three main regulatory attempts: Independent self-regulatory strategies (distraction, turning attention away from delay object, and self-comforting), mother-dependent strategies (comfort seeking and information gathering) and nonadaptive strategies (verbal or behavioral aggression and focus on delay). According to preliminary results (only 15 Arab toddlers are coded so far), EA children showed stronger sadness expression but contrary to our prediction, Israeli-Arab toddlers displayed higher intensity of anger expression. As expected, EA children used independent strategies more often than Israeli-Jewish and both Israeli groups showed mother-dependent strategies more often (see Table 1). Nonadaptive strategies occurred more often for EA children. As a proxy for effectiveness of strategies, we computed correlations between frequency/intensity of affect and strategies. The independent strategies were negatively related with sadness and anger for EA and Israeli Jewish (see Table 2) validating their effectiveness. Mother-dependent strategies were negatively correlated with positive affect and positively associated with anger for Jewish toddlers, which suggests that those strategies were less effective to down-regulate negative affect. It is likely that mothers were unresponsive to their children by focusing on their own task. Nonadaptive strategies were positively related with sadness for EA toddlers which partly validates the ineffectiveness by rather up-regulating the toddlers sadness. Overall, we found a rather ambivalent pattern for the EA toddlers as they displayed a mixture of nonadaptive and independent strategies. Israeli-Jewish toddlers referred to mothers which was not as effective, and Israeli-Arab toddlers used independent and mother-dependent strategies to cope with the delay situation.

Conference Name

Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development

Conference Location


This document is currently not available here.