Psychotherapy and Neuroscience

Parental Event Elaborations

Parental event elaborations to a child as an event is occurring or during reminiscing don’t simply report what has happened to the child, but also help the child to elaborate on the event’s evoking emotions, i.e. the meaning of the event to the child and how it fits into the child’s private and psychological world (Haden, Ornstein, Eckerman, & Didow, 2001; Fivush & Reese, 2002). Parental scaffolding as such supplies explicit evaluative references to help enhance the child’s understanding of his/her internal states, psychological causality, and the explicit use of evaluative devices that help the child discern, gain awareness, and access his/her personal motivations, thoughts/beliefs, and emotional reactions. These variables when inserted into reported event narratives impute narratives with personal meaning of the self (Fivush & Haden, 1997; Haden, 2003). By sharing evaluative information, (e.g. “Wasn’t it scarey!” “Boy you were so full, you went right to sleep!” “Remember how impatient and bored you were?”), the parent helps the child to explicitly place emotional personally meaningful relationship interactions into a social context and egocentric space (Haden, Haine, & Fivush, 1997). The child’s use of intensifying evaluative statements like (e.g. “It was so much fun!”), intensify (e.g. “I was so scared!”), modify (e.g. “I ate the whole thing! And I wasn’t even hungry!”), and describe (e.g. “I got tired of waiting so long.”) personal experience and provide personal significance to narratives (Fivush & Haden, 1997). Evaluative references like those noted above allow explicit expression of implicit internal visceral, emotional, and cognitive states. Explicit evaluative statements during event narration reflect that children are better able to attend to an event’s salient features on their own and capable of sharing previously inaccessible implicit internal experiences through declarative internal state language (Fivush & Haden, 2005; Haden, 2003).

In contrast to low elaborative mothers who tend to repeat the same question over and over in an attempt to get their children to answer their question correctly and insensitively switch the topic when their children cannot recall, elaborative mothers frequently ask questions following their children’s responses and support and offer their children more and more memory information (Haden, 2003). The impact of high parental elaboration on children’s narrative development is delayed and evident a couple of years later. Mothers having a high elaborative narrative and emotional style with their children at ages 1 ? years and 2 ? years predict their children’s future use of elaborative narrative styles at 3-4 years of age and feeling-state utterances at 2 years later respectively (Dunn, Bretherton, & Munn, 1987; Reese, Haden, & Fivush, 1993; Reese & Farrant, 2003). Mothers’ memory questions and elaborations in interaction with their 40 month and 58 month old children during shared previous event conversations were associated with their children’s increased memory responses 1 ? – 2 ? years later and one year later respectively (Reese et al., 1993). Furthermore a sample of mothers during parent-child reminiscence reduced their use of mean mental terms, i.e. use of mental state language like remember, know, and think, from 21 to 19 mental terms in response to their children’s increasing maturation and competency from thirty to forty-two months (Fivush & Haden, 2005). Interestingly as this sample of children developed and matured they also tended to increase their own use of mental state comments during reminiscence from one time period to the other. Conversely with their child’s increasing use of mental state dialogue, mothers tended to increase comments on their own mental states rather than scaffold their child’s. Mothers’ memory questions and elaborations during their own event narratives were unique significant predictors of their 32-month old children’s memory elaborations (Farrant & Reese, 2000). A mother’s use of evaluative narrative elaborations when their child was 40 months of age tended to uniquely predict their child’s use of evaluative language during independently reported narratives two and one half years later at 70 months (Haden, 2003). Finally mothers’ explicit references to feelings such as distress, pain, fatigue, and pleasure and conversation turns such as verbal referencing someone’s feeling state, clarifying on a feeling, and attempting to guide behavior at 18 months was positively associated with their children’s feeling-state conversation during interaction and play six months later (Dunn, Bretherton, & Munn, 1987). Mothers apparently can influence their infant’s and later child’s later ability at organizing and understanding previous personally meaningful experience (Fivush & Haden, 1997).


Dunn, J., Bretherton, I., & Munn, P. (1987). Conversations about feeling states between mothers and their young children. Developmental Psychology, 23, 132-9.

Farrant, K., & Reese, E. (2000). Maternal style and children’s participation in reminiscing: stepping stone in children’s autobiographical memory development. Journal of Cognition and Development, 1(2), 193-225.

Fivush, R., & Haden, C.A. (1997). Narrating and representing experience: preschoolers developing autobiographical recounts. In: P.W. van den Broek, P.J. Bauer, & T. Bourg (Eds.), Developmental spans in event comprehension and representation. (pp. 169-98). Hillsdale, New Jersey: Erlbaum.

Fivush, R., & Haden, C.A. (2005). Parent-child reminiscing and the construction of a subjective self. In: B.D. Homer & C.S. Tamis-LeMonda (Eds.) The development of social cognition and communication (pp. 315-336). Mahwah, New Jersey: Erlbaum.

Fivush, R., & Reese, E. (2002). Origins of reminiscing. In: J. Webster & B. Haight (Eds.), Critical advances in reminisce work (pp. 109-22). New York: Springer.

Haden, C.A. (2003). Joint encoding and joint reminiscing: implications for young children’s understanding and remembering of personal experiences. In: R. Fivush & C.A. Haden (Eds.) Autobiographical memory and the construction of a narrative self (pp. 49-69), Mahwah, New Jersey: Erlbaum.

Haden, C.A., Haine, R.A., & Fivush, R. (1997). Developing narrative structure in parent-child reminiscing across the preschool years. Developmental Psychology, 33(2), 295-307.

Haden, C.A., Ornstein, P.A., Eckerman, C.O., & Didow, S.M. (2001). Mother-child conversational interactions as events unfold: linkages to subsequent remembering. Child Development, 72(4), 1016-31.

Reese, E., & Farant, K. (2003). Social origins of reminiscing. In: R. Fivush & C.A. Haden (Eds.), Autobiographical memory and the construction of a narrative self (pp. 29-48). Mahwah, New Jersey: Erlbaum.

Reese, E., Haden, C.A., & Fivush, R. (1993). Mother-child conversations about the past. Relationships of style and memory over time. Cognitive Development, 8, 403-430.