It’s child’s play for Anglia Ruskin psychologist

Published: 20 September 2016 at 15:05

The My First Emotions toy set

New academic research helps to deliver success at the Independent Toy Awards

New research by an Anglia Ruskin University psychologist has been used to develop an award-winning educational toy for babies and toddlers.

Dr John Lambie, Reader in Psychology at Anglia Ruskin, has been working with Cambridge company Skylark Learning to produce “My First Emotions”.  

And the toy, which is designed to help parents encourage early and healthy emotional development in children up to the age of three, won a silver medal in the education category at the recent Independent Toy Awards 2016.

The design of the toy has been underpinned by new research carried out by Dr Lambie and colleague Anja Lindberg, and published in Merrill-Palmer Quarterly: Journal of Developmental Psychology.

Dr Lambie said: 

“I have been researching emotional experience for more than 20 years and have long been interested in how children become aware of their own emotions.  Our recent research at Anglia Ruskin discovered that one important factor that helps children is whether or not their parents use emotional validation.”

Emotional validation is when you accurately and non-judgmentally refer to another person’s emotion, such as “I can see you are sad” or “that must be really annoying”.  Emotional invalidation is when you dismiss or ignore another’s emotion, for example saying “don’t be angry” or “you’re not scared”.

The new research is the first observational study to show that maternal emotional validation is positively correlated, and maternal invalidation is negatively correlated, with a child’s emotional awareness. 

The psychologists observed 65 pairs of mothers and children playing a game, and found that the overall ratio of invalidating responses to validating responses was nearly 3:1.  The most common response to negative emotions of both sadness and anger was invalidation, while girls were significantly more likely to be validated than boys.

Dr Lambie said: 

“Our research shows that mothers were much more likely to use emotional invalidation than validation.  This may be because many parents view negative emotions as something not to be dwelt on but to be quickly passed over.  They might feel that emotional validation of negative emotions, specifically anger, is an odd or unnatural thing to do.

“We also found that the more emotional validation the parent did, the more emotionally aware their child was.  This matters because there is evidence that good emotional awareness in children leads to better mental health and better performance in school and social life.”

On the collaboration with Skylark Learning, Dr Lambie added: 

“I was delighted when I was approached to help them develop a product to teach young children, and their parents, about emotions. 

“I worked very closely with them to develop the series of toys, books and games, and the guide to help parents learn the important skill of emotional validation is based directly on my academic research.”