Research has demonstrated that children who experience familial sexual maltreatment are at risk for developing psychological difficulties characterized by emotional and behavioral dysregulation. Surprisingly, however, little attention has been directed toward identifying processes in emotional development that differ in maltreated and nonmaltreated children. From a developmental psychopathology perspective, the present study examined emotion management skills (i.e., emotional understanding, emotion regulation) in 21 sexually maltreated girls and their nonmaltreated peers to determine how the experience of sexual maltreatment may interfere with normative emotional development. Findings indicated that sexually maltreated girls, in comparison to their nonmaltreated peers, demonstrate lower emotional understanding and decreased ability to regulate their emotions in accordance with cultural expectations. Further, maltreated girls expected less emotional support and more relational conflict from parents in response to sadness displays and from parents and peers in response to anger displays. These findings will be discussed from the functionalist approach to emotional development, emphasizing the importance of social context (e.g., maltreating, nonmaltreating) in the development of children's emotion management skills.
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