Abstract: Exploring Nonverbal Interactions and Implicit Relationship between Mothers and Children in the Context of Intimate Partner Violence through Joint Painting Procedure (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Exploring Nonverbal Interactions and Implicit Relationship between Mothers and Children in the Context of Intimate Partner Violence through Joint Painting Procedure

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Chun Miao Anne Wong, MPA, PhD student, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Tin Hung Rainbow Ho, PhD, Professor, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Background and Purpose: Mother-child relationship is significant to the survival and recovery of mothers and children in the context of intimate partner violence (IPV). Previous studies in this area mainly based on mothers and children’s verbal account of their explicit relationship and experience. However, mother-child relationship consists explicit and implicit aspects that are equally important to understand the relationship. There has been a lack of research about implicit mother-child relationship. The implicit relationship involves nonverbal interactions which are difficult to express clearly in language, especially for young children. There are inherent differences between children and adults’ vocabulary and understanding of words, thus it is important to use a tool that can maximize children’s active participation and enable them to put forward their views in the research process. This study aims at exploring implicit mother-child relationship to complement participants’ verbal account of experience in order to extend our understanding of mother-child relationship in the context of IPV.

Method: This study employed Joint Painting Procedure (JPP) to explore mother-child relationship through the dyad’s nonverbal interactions and communication during their painting process, formal elements and contents of their paintings, and their interpretation of meaning of their own paintings. Six families consisted nine Chinese mother-child dyads were recruited and referred by their social workers of a shelter for women victims in Hong Kong. These mothers and children experienced the structured five-step of JPP together. After painting, the dyad had discussions. They looked at their co-created artwork together to discuss their shared painting experience, created a story about it and gave their artwork a title.

Data collected included the researcher’s detailed observation throughout the process, notes taking during JPP and post-painting discussions. Artistic elements and contents of paintings were analyzed, and themes from the dyads’ discussions were extracted. Members’ checking was conducted to ensure accuracy of the themes identified.

Findings: All mother-child dyads exhibited that their relationship, positive memories, surroundings and natural environment could be important resources for them to obtain the sense of safety. Particularly, children demonstrated that their agentic use of heroic images and creative elements to fulfill their safety needs. While mothers showed their ability and persistency in maintaining personal space in their paintings, the dyads continued to take pleasure from JPP and feel being united and connected with each other. Children’s sharing of their strong motivation and active participation in the painting process provided supplementary meaning to mutuality found by the previous studies. JPP provided a nonverbal means for the dyads to express their emotions towards one another. When their emotions became visualized, they were able to engage in affectionate dialogues.

Implications and conclusions: Findings of this study highlight that implicit relationship between mothers and children can increase our understanding on mother-child relationship in the context of IPV. The increased understanding has practical implications for professional interventions in the post-separation stage. Moreover, nonverbal means can be used for achieving this purpose easier. Suggestions on professional intervention regarding safety and resources, mother-child boundaries, mutuality and expression of emotions are recommended and discussed.