The Role of Parent Psychopathology in Emotion Socialization

Abstract

This study examined the relation between parent psychopathology symptoms and emotion socialization practices in a sample of mothers and fathers of preschool-aged children with behavior problems (N = 109, M age = 44.60 months, 50 % male). Each parent completed a self-report rating scale of their psychopathology symptoms and audio-recorded naturalistic interactions with their children, which were coded for reactions to child negative affect. Results supported a spillover hypothesis for mothers. Specifically, mothers who reported greater overall psychopathology symptoms, anxiety symptoms, substance use, and borderline and Cluster A personality symptoms were more likely to exhibit non-supportive reactions. Additionally, mothers who reported greater anxiety and Cluster A personality symptoms were more likely to not respond to child negative affect. Compensatory and crossover hypotheses were also supported. Partners of mothers who reported high levels of anxiety were more likely to use supportive reactions to child negative affect. In contrast, partners of mothers who reported high levels of borderline and Cluster A personality symptoms and overall psychopathology symptoms were more likely to show non-supportive reactions. With the exception of borderline personality symptoms, fathers’ psychopathology was unrelated to parental responses to child negative affect. Results highlight the importance of maternal psychopathology in parental emotion socialization practices.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Harvey et al. (2011) found that narcissistic, histrionic, and compulsive subscales almost always correlated negatively with other subscales, suggesting that within this nonclinical sample, these subscales may actually measure healthy narcissism, flamboyance, and organization, respectively. Thus, these subscales were not included in analyses.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health (MH60132) awarded to the second author. The authors wish to thank our wonderful team of undergraduate research assistants, especially Jenna Axelrod, for their hard work on coding the emotion socialization data.

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The authors have no competing or potential conflicts of interest.

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Correspondence to Elizabeth A. Harvey.

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Breaux, R.P., Harvey, E.A. & Lugo-Candelas, C.I. The Role of Parent Psychopathology in Emotion Socialization. J Abnorm Child Psychol 44, 731–743 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-015-0062-3

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Keywords

  • Emotion socialization
  • Parent psychopathology
  • Preschoolers
  • Family system