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Halfon, S. Bekar Ababay, S. Dorlach, G. (2017). Dyadic Mental State Talk and Sophistication of Symbolic Play between Parents and Children with Behavioral Problems. J. Infant Child Adolesc. Psychother., 16(4):291-307.

(2017). Journal of Infant, Child & Adolescent Psychotherapy, 16(4):291-307

Dyadic Mental State Talk and Sophistication of Symbolic Play between Parents and Children with Behavioral Problems

Sibel Halfon, Ph.D., Özlem Bekar, Ph.D., Serra Ababay, M.A. and Görkem Çöklü Dorlach, M.A.

Parents’ ability to recognize children’s mental states and use mental state language in their interactions are associated with children’s mentalization, affect regulation, and symbolization in play. However, the relations among these constructs have not been investigated in school-age children with behavioral problems. This study examined the association between 53 Turkish mother-child and 40 father-child dyads’ mental state talk, children’s play characteristics, and behavioral problems at the beginning of psychotherapy. Results indicated that parents’ and children’s play-related mental state talk was associated with children’s interactive role-play, and mothers’ mental state talk was associated with children’s affect regulation in play. Moreover, mental state talk through pretend play was linked with fewer internalizing symptoms; yet a direct focus on children’s mental states out-of-pretend play was correlated with more behavioral problems, highlighting the multidimensional nature of the mentalization construct. These results are discussed taking into account the socio-cultural variations of the Turkish culture highlighting the unique characteristics of the parent-child play in context. The clinical implications point to the importance of parental and child mentalization within pretend play, that provide opportunities for affect processing, which could promote symptomatic improvement.

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