Skip to main content

Origins of mother–child reminiscing style

  • Elaine Reese (a1), Elizabeth Meins (a2), Charles Fernyhough (a3) and Luna Centifanti (a4)

Maternal elaborative reminiscing supports preschool children's autobiographical memory, self-concept, and emotion understanding. What are the factors contributing to mothers' elaborative style of reminiscing? In a longitudinal community sample (n = 170 at the final data point), this study explored the role of maternal depression (8–44 months), maternal sensitivity and maternal mind-mindedness (8 months), as well as child factors of joint attention (15 months), attachment security (15 months), and language (26 months) for mother–child reminiscing about a positive (happy) and a negative (scared) event at 44 months. Mothers could be classed into two groups of low versus increasing depression from 8 to 44 months, yet maternal depression did not uniquely predict mother–child reminiscing after accounting for maternal sensitivity and other factors. Instead, maternal sensitivity, children's joint attention, and language uniquely predicted children's elaborations about the scared event at 44 months, and maternal sensitivity uniquely predicted mothers' elaborations about the scared event at 44 months. Mothers who are more sensitive in early interactions may later be better at engaging their children when reminiscing about negative emotions. These findings have implications for the design of interventions targeted at supporting mothers to engage in elaborative reminiscing with their preschool children.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Elaine Reese, University of Otago, Department of Psychology, PO Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand 9054; E-mail:
Hide All

This research was supported by Grants R000239456, RES-000-23-1073, and ES/K010719/1 from the Economic and Social Research Council to (E.M.). We thank Lorna Elliott, Alexandra Hearn, Beth Liddle, Kathryn Parkinson, Julia Candy, Karin Fothergill, Sarah-Jane Robertson, and Jessica Riordan for their valuable contributions to data collection and coding, and the families for their generous participation.

Hide All
Ainsworth, M. S., Bell, S. M., & Stayton, D. J. (1974). Infant–mother attachment and social development: “Socialization” as a product of reciprocal responsiveness to signals. In Richards, M. P. M. (Ed.), The integration of a child into a social world (pp. 99135). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ainsworth, M. S., Blehar, E., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the Strange Situation. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Arnott, B., & Meins, E. (2008). Continuity in mind-mindedness from pregnancy to the first year of life. Infant Behavior and Development, 31, 647654. doi:10.1016/j.infbeh.2008.07.001
Bauer, D. J., & Curran, P. J. (2004). The integration of continuous and discrete latent variable models: Potential problems and promising opportunities. Psychological Methods, 9, 329. doi:10.1037/1082-989X.9.1.3.
Beck, A. T., Ward, C. H., Mendelson, M., Mock, J., & Erbaugh, J. (1961). An inventory for measuring depression. Archives of General Psychiatry, 4, 561571. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1961.01710120031004.
Bird, A., Reese, E., & Tripp, G. (2006). Parent–child talk about past emotional events: Associations with child temperament and goodness-of-fit. Journal of Cognition and Development, 7, 189210. doi:10.1207/s15327647jcd0702_3.
Boucher, J., & Lewis, V. (1997). Pre-school Language Scales-3 (UK). London: Harcourt Brace.
Bowlby, J. (1988). A secure base: Clinical applications of attachment theory. London: Routledge.
Bretherton, I., & Munholland, K. A. (1999). Internal working models in attachment relationships: A construct revisited. In Cassidy, J. & Shaver, P. R. (Eds.), Handbook of attachment: Theory, research and clinical applications (pp. 89111). New York: Guilford Press.
Centifanti, L., Meins, E., & Fernyhough, C. (2016). Callous-unemotional traits and impulsivity: Distinct longitudinal relations with mind-mindedness and understanding of others. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 57, 8492. doi:10.1111/jcpp.12445
Cleveland, E. S., & Reese, E. (2005). Maternal structure and autonomy support in conversations about the past: Contributions to children's autobiographical memory. Developmental Psychology, 41, 376388. doi:10.1016/j.jecp.2006.09.003.
Farrant, K., & Reese, E. (2000). Maternal style and children's participation in reminiscing: Stepping stones in children's autobiographical memory development. Journal of Cognition and Development, 1, 193225. doi:10.1207/S15327647JCD010203.
Fivush, R. (1989). Exploring sex differences in the emotional content of mother-child conversations about the past. Sex Roles, 20, 675691.
Fivush, R., Brotman, M. A., Buckner, J. P., & Goodman, S. H. (2000). Gender differences in parent–child emotion narratives. Sex Roles, 42, 233253.
Fivush, R., Haden, C. A., & Reese, E. (2006). Elaborating on elaborations: Role of maternal reminiscing style in cognitive and socioemotional development. Child Development, 77, 15681588. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2006.00960.x.
Fivush, R., & Nelson, K. (2006). Parent–child reminiscing locates the self in the past. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 24, 235251. doi: 10.1348/026151005X57747.
Fivush, R., & Vasudeva, A. (2002). Remembering to relate: Socioemotional correlates of mother-child reminiscing. Journal of Cognition and Development, 3, 7390. doi:10.1207/S15327647JCD0301_5.
Haden, C. A. (1998). Reminiscing with different children: Relating maternal stylistic consistency and sibling similarity in talk about the past. Developmental Psychology, 34, 99114.
Haden, C. A., & Fivush, R. (1996). Contextual variation in maternal conversational styles. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 24, 200227.
Haden, C. A., Ornstein, P. A., Rudek, D. J., & Cameron, D. (2009). Reminiscing in the early years: Patterns of maternal elaborativeness and children's remembering. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 33, 118130. doi:10.1177/0165025408098038.
Hollingshead, A. B. (1975). Four-Factor Index of Social Status. Unpublished manuscript, Yale University.
Hudson, J. A. (2002). “Do you know what we're going to do this summer?”: Mothers' talk to preschool children about future events. Journal of Cognition and Development, 3, 4971. doi:10.1207/S15327647JCD0301_4.
Jack, F., MacDonald, S., Reese, E., & Hayne, H. (2009). Maternal reminiscing style during early childhood predicts the age of adolescents’ earliest memories. Child Development, 80, 496505. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2009.01274.x.
Laible, D. (2004). Mother-child discourse in two contexts: Links with child temperament, attachment security, and socioemotional competence. Developmental Psychology, 40, 979992. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.40.6.979.
Laible, D. (2011). Does it matter if preschool children and mothers discuss positive vs. negative events during reminiscing? Links with mother-reported attachment, family emotional climate, and socioemotional development. Social Development, 20, 394411. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9507.2010.00584.x.
Laible, D., Panfile Murphy, T., & Augustine, M. (2013). Constructing emotional and relational understanding: The role of mother–child reminiscing about negatively valenced events. Social Development, 22, 300318. doi:10.1111/sode.12022.
Langley, H. A., Coffman, J. L., & Ornstein, P. A. (2017). The socialization of children's memory: Linking maternal conversational style to the development of children's autobiographical and deliberate memory skills. Journal of Cognition and Development, 18, 6386. doi:10.1080/15248372.2015.1135800.
Lewis, K. D. (1999). Maternal style in reminiscing: Relations to child individual differences. Cognitive Development, 14, 381399. doi:10.1016/S0885-2014(99)00011-8.
Leyva, D., Sparks, A., & Reese, E. (2012). The link between preschoolers' phonological awareness and mothers' book–reading and reminiscing practices in low–income families. Journal of Literacy Research, 44, 426447. doi:10.1177/1086296X12460040
Lo, Y., Mendell, N. R., & Rubin, D. B. (2001). Testing the number of components in a normal mixture. Biometrika, 88, 767778.
Lovejoy, M. C., Graczyk, P. A., O'Hare, E., & Neuman, G. (2000). Maternal depression and parenting behavior: A meta-analytic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 20, 561592. doi:10.1016/S0272-7358(98)00100-7.
McGuigan, F., & Salmon, K. (2004). The time to talk: The influence of the timing of adult–child talk on children's event memory. Child Development, 75, 669686. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2004.00700.x.
McGuigan, F., & Salmon, K. (2006). The influence of talking on showing and telling: Adult-child talk and children's verbal and nonverbal event recall. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 20, 365381. doi:10.1002/acp.1183
McMahon, C., Camberis, A. L., Berry, S., & Gibson, F. (2016). Maternal mind-mindedness: Relations with maternal-fetal attachment and stability in the first two years of life: Findings from an Australian prospective study. Infant Mental Health Journal, 37, 1728. doi:10.1002/imhj.21548.
Main, M., & Solomon, J. (1986). Discovery of an insecure-disorganized/disoriented attachment pattern. In Brazelton, B. T. & Yogman, M. W. (Eds.), Affective development in infancy (pp. 95124). Westport, CT: Ablex.
Main, M., & Solomon, J. (1990). Procedures for identifying infants as disorganized/disoriented during the Ainsworth Strange Situation. In Greenberg, M. T., Cicchetti, D., & Cummings, E. M. (Eds.), Attachment in the preschool years: Theory, research, and intervention (Vol. 1, pp. 121160). Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
Meins, E. (1997). Security of attachment and maternal tutoring strategies: Interaction within the zone of proximal development. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 15, 129144. doi:10.1111/j.2044-835X.1997.tb00730.x.
Meins, E., Fernyhough, C., Arnott, B., Leekam, S. R., & Rosnay, M. (2013). Mind-mindedness and theory of mind: Mediating roles of language and perspectival symbolic play. Child Development, 84, 17771790. doi:10.1111/cdev.12061.
Meins, E., Fernyhough, C., Arnott, B., Turner, M., & Leekam, S. R. (2011). Mother- versus infant-centered correlates of maternal mind-mindedness in the first year of life. Infancy, 16, 137165. doi:10.1111/j.1532-7078.2010.00039.x.
Meins, E., Fernyhough, C., Arnott, B., Vittorini, L., Turner, M., Leekam, S. R., & Parkinson, K. (2011). Individual differences in infants’ joint attention behaviors with mother and a new social partner. Infancy, 16, 587610. doi:10.1111/j.1532-7078.2010.00065.x.
Meins, E., Fernyhough, C., de Rosnay, M., Arnott, B., Leekam, S. R., & Turner, M. (2012). Mind-mindedness as a multidimensional construct: Appropriate and nonattuned mind-related comments independently predict infant–mother attachment in a socially diverse sample. Infancy, 17, 393415. doi:10.1111/j.1532-7078.2011.00087.x.
Meins, E., Fernyhough, C., Fradley, E., & Tuckey, M. (2001). Rethinking maternal sensitivity: Mothers’ comments on infants’ mental processes predict security of attachment at 12 months. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 42, 637648. doi:10.1017/S0021963001007302.
Meins, E., Fernyhough, C., Wainwright, R., Clark-Carter, D., Das Gupta, M., Fradley, E., & Tuckey, M. (2003). Pathways to understanding mind: Construct validity and predictive validity of maternal mind-mindedness. Child Development, 74, 11941211. doi:10.1111/1467-8624.00601.
Meins, E., Fernyhough, C., Wainwright, R., Das Gupta, M., Fradley, E., & Tuckey, M. (2002). Maternal mind–mindedness and attachment security as predictors of theory of mind understanding. Child Development, 73, 17151726. doi:10.1111/1467-8624.00501.
Miller, P. J., Potts, R., Fung, H., Hoogstra, L., & Mintz, J. (1990). Narrative practices and the social construction of self in childhood. American Ethnologist, 17, 292311. doi:10.1525/ae.1990.17.2.02a00060.
Mullen, M. K., & Yi, S. (1995). The cultural context of talk about the past: Implications for the development of autobiographical memory. Cognitive Development, 10, 407419. doi:10.1016/0885-2014(95)90004-7.
Muthén, L. K., & Muthén, B. O. (2013). Mplus 7.11. Los Angeles: Author.
Nagin, D. S. (1999). Analyzing developmental trajectories: A semiparametric, group-based approach. Psychological Methods, 4, 139157.
Nagin, D. (2005). Group-based modeling of development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Nagin, D., & Tremblay, R. E. (1999). Trajectories of boys' physical aggression, opposition, and hyperactivity on the path to physically violent and nonviolent juvenile delinquency. Child Development, 70, 11811196. doi:10.1111/1467-8624.00086
Newcombe, R., & Reese, E. (2004). Evaluations and orientations in mother–child narratives as a function of attachment security: A longitudinal investigation. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 28, 230245. doi:10.1080/01650250344000460.
Nylund, K. L., Asparouhov, T., & Muthén, B. O. (2007). Deciding on the number of classes in latent class analysis and growth mixture modeling: A Monte Carlo simulation study. Structural Equation Modeling, 14, 535569. doi:10.1080/10705510701575396.
Peterson, C., Jesso, B., & McCabe, A. (1999). Encouraging narratives in preschoolers: An intervention study. Journal of Child Language, 26, 4967.
Raikes, H. A., & Thompson, R. A. (2006). Family emotional climate, attachment security and young children's emotion knowledge in a high-risk sample. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 24, 89104. doi:10.1348/026151005X70427.
Reese, E. (1999). What children say when they talk about the past. Narrative Inquiry, 9, 215241. doi:10.1075/ni.9.2.02ree.
Reese, E. (2013). Tell me a story: Sharing stories to enrich your child's world. New York: Oxford University Press.
Reese, E., & Brown, N. (2000). Reminiscing and recounting in the preschool years. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 14, 117. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1099-0720(200001)14:1 < 1::AID-ACP625 > 3.0.CO;2-G.
Reese, E., & Cleveland, E. S. (2006). Mother-child reminiscing and children's understanding of mind. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 52, 1743. doi:10.1353/mpq.2006.0007.
Reese, E., & Fivush, R. (1993). Parental styles of talking about the past. Developmental Psychology, 29, 596.
Reese, E., Haden, C. A., & Fivush, R. (1993). Mother-child conversations about the past: Relationships of style and memory over time. Cognitive Development, 8, 403430. doi:10.1016/S0885-2014(05)80002-4.
Reese, E., Hayne, H., & MacDonald, S. (2008). Looking back to the future: Māori and Pakeha mother–child birth stories. Child Development, 79, 114125. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2007.01114.x.
Reese, E., Leyva, D., Sparks, A., & Grolnick, W. (2010). Maternal elaborative reminiscing increases low-income children's narrative skills relative to dialogic reading. Early Education and Development, 21, 318342. doi:10.1080/10409289.2010.481552.
Reese, E., & Neha, T. (2015). Let's kōrero (talk): The practice and functions of reminiscing among mothers and children in Māori families. Memory, 23, 99110. doi:10.1080/09658211.2014.929705.
Reese, E., & Newcombe, R. (2007). Training mothers in elaborative reminiscing enhances children's autobiographical memory and narrative. Child Development, 78, 11531170. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2007.01058.x.
Rothbart, M. K., Ahadi, S. A., Hershey, K. L., & Fisher, P. (2001). Investigations of temperament at three to seven years: The Children's Behavior Questionnaire. Child Development, 72, 13941408. doi:10.1111/1467-8624.00355.
Sachs, J. (1983). Talking about the there and then: The emergence of displaced reference in parent-child discourse. Children's Language, 4, 128.
Salmon, K., & Reese, E. (2016). The benefits of reminiscing with young children. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 25, 233238. doi:10.1177/0963721416655100.
Schafer, J. L., & Graham, J. W. (2002). Missing data: Our view of the state of the art. Psychological Methods, 7, 147177. doi:10.1037//1082-989.
Schröder, L., Keller, H., Kärtner, J., Kleis, A., Abels, M., Yovsi, R. D., … Papaligoura, Z. (2013). Early reminiscing in cultural contexts: Cultural models, maternal reminiscing styles, and children's memories. Journal of Cognition and Development, 14, 1034. doi:10.1080/15248372.2011.638690.
Suveg, C., Zeman, J., Flannery-Schroeder, E., & Cassano, M. (2005). Emotion socialization in families of children with an anxiety disorder. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 33, 145155. doi:10.1007/s10802-005-1823-1.
Suveg, C., Sood, E., Barmish, A., Tiwari, S., Hudson, J. L., & Kendall, P. C. (2008). “I'd rather not talk about it”: Emotion parenting in families of children with an anxiety disorder. Journal of Family Psychology, 22, 875. doi:10.1037/a0012861.
Taumoepeau, M., & Reese, E. (2013). Maternal reminiscing, elaborative talk, and children's theory of mind: An intervention study. First Language, 33, 388410. doi:10.1177/0142723713493347.
Tõugu, P., Tulviste, T., Schröder, L., Keller, H., & De Geer, B. (2011). Socialization of past event talk: Cultural differences in maternal elaborative reminiscing. Cognitive Development, 26, 142154. doi:10.1016/j.cogdev.2010.12.004.
Valentino, K., Comas, M., Nuttall, A. K., & Thomas, T. (2013). Training maltreating parents in elaborative and emotion-rich reminiscing with their preschool-aged children. Child Abuse & Neglect, 37, 585595. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2013.02.010.
Valentino, K., Hibel, L. C., Cummings, E. M., Nuttall, A. K., Comas, M., & McDonnell, C. G. (2015). Maternal elaborative reminiscing mediates the effect of child maltreatment on behavioral and physiological functioning. Development and Psychopathology, 27, 15151526. doi:10.1017/S0954579415000917.
van Bergen, P., & Salmon, K. (2010). Emotion-oriented reminiscing and children's recall of a novel event. Cognition and Emotion, 24, 9911007. doi:10.1080/02699930903093326.
van Bergen, P., Salmon, K., Dadds, M. R., & Allen, J. (2009). The effects of mother training in emotion-rich, elaborative reminiscing on children's shared recall and emotion knowledge. Journal of Cognition and Development, 10, 162187. doi:10.1080/15248370903155825.
Wang, Q., & Fivush, R. (2005). Mother–child conversations of emotionally salient events: Exploring the functions of emotional reminiscing in European-American and Chinese families. Social Development, 14, 473495. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9507.2005.00312.x.
Wareham, P., & Salmon, K. (2006). Mother–child reminiscing about everyday experiences: Implications for psychological interventions in the preschool years. Clinical Psychology Review, 26, 535554. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2006.05.001.
Waters, E., & Deane, K. E. (1985). Defining and assessing individual differences in attachment relationships: Q-methodology and the organization of behavior in infancy and early childhood. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 50 (1–2, Serial No. 209), 4165.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Development and Psychopathology
  • ISSN: 0954-5794
  • EISSN: 1469-2198
  • URL: /core/journals/development-and-psychopathology
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed