Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 45, Issue 1, pp 157–170 | Cite as

Maternal Psychosocial Maladjustment and Child Internalizing Symptoms: Investigating the Modulating Role of Maternal Sensitivity

  • Andrée-Anne Bouvette-Turcot
  • Annie BernierEmail author
  • Élizabel Leblanc


In light of evidence suggesting that maternal adaptation may impact early child emotional development, this study investigated the interactive effects of maternal psychosocial maladjustment and maternal sensitivity on child internalizing symptoms, with the aim of investigating the potentially protective function of maternal sensitivity. Families (N = 71 to 106 across measures, with gender spread almost evenly: number of boys = 31 to 51 across measures) took part in four assessments between child ages 1 and 3 years. Mothers completed measures of parental stress, psychological distress, and marital satisfaction when their children were between 12 and 15 months. A composite score of maternal psychosocial maladjustment was derived from these measures. Maternal sensitivity was rated by trained observers at 12 months following a home visit. Child internalizing symptoms were assessed by both parents when the child was 2 and 3 years old. Hierarchical regressions revealed that increased maternal psychosocial maladjustment was related to more internalizing symptoms in children, however only among children of less sensitive mothers. In contrast, children of more sensitive mothers appeared to be protected. This was observed with maternal reports at 2 years, and both maternal and paternal reports at 3 years. These results suggest that young children may be differentially affected by their parents’ emotional adjustment, while highlighting the pivotal protective role of maternal sensitivity in this process.


Maternal psychosocial maladjustment Maternal sensitivity Child internalizing symptoms Buffer effects 



The authors would like to express their gratitude to Émilie Rochette, Nadine Marzougui, Natasha Ballen, Natasha Whipple, Isabelle Demers, Jessica Laranjo, Véronique Jarry-Boileau, Marie Deschênes, Célia Matte-Gagné, Stéphanie Bordeleau, Marie-Ève Bélanger, Christine Gagné, Sarah Hertz, Marie-Soleil Sirois, Émilie Tétreault, and Rachel Perrier for help with data collection. Special thanks go to the participating families of the Grandir Ensemble project who generously opened their homes to us.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Declaration of Conflicting Interests

The authors declared that they had no conflicts of interest with respect to their authorship or the publication of this article.


The research described in this article was supported by grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (410-2010-1366), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (MOP-119390), and the Fonds Québécois de Recherche sur la Société et la Culture (2012-RP-144923) to Annie Bernier.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrée-Anne Bouvette-Turcot
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Annie Bernier
    • 1
    • 4
    Email author
  • Élizabel Leblanc
    • 1
  1. 1.University of MontrealMontrealCanada
  2. 2.Douglas Mental Health Research Institute of McGill UniversityMontrealCanada
  3. 3.Ludmer Center for Neuroinformatics and Mental HealthMontrealCanada
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MontrealMontrealCanada

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