Longitudinal Associations of Parental Emotion Socialization and Children’s Emotion Regulation: The Moderating Role of ADHD Symptomatology

Abstract

Theory and research suggest that parents’ reactions to children’s emotions play a critical role in teaching children effective emotion regulation (ER) skills, but no studies have directly examined the role that parent emotion socialization plays in the development of ER in children with ADHD. Gaining insight into the causes of impaired ER, particularly in youth with ADHD who are known to have poor ER, has important theoretical and translational significance. The present study is the first to longitudinally examine whether emotion socialization predicts later physiological and adult-reported measures of ER in children with and without ADHD. It also sought to determine if these relations are moderated by ADHD symptoms. Participants were 61 children (31 girls, 30 boys; M = 10.67 years, SD = 1.28) with and without clinically significant ADHD symptoms. At Time 1, parent reports of emotion socialization and parent- and teacher-report of child ADHD symptoms were collected. At Time 2, child ER measures were collected based on parent- and teacher-report and physiological reactivity during an impossible puzzle and a social rejection task. Physiological measures included respiratory sinus arrhythmia and skin conductance level (SCL). Supportive parenting practices were associated with better parent-rated emotion regulation skills for all children and greater SCL reactivity for children with high ADHD symptoms. Non-supportive parenting reactions were associated with greater adult-rated emotional lability for children with high ADHD symptoms. Results highlight the importance of considering multiple aspects of ER, including physiological manifestations. Findings suggest that parents’ use of adaptive emotion socialization practices may serve as a protective factor for children’s ER development and may be particularly critical for youth with ADHD. Our findings support the use of interventions addressing parent emotion socialization to help foster better ER in children.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    In order to further minimize continued physiological arousal after children completed the first stressor task, the task was followed by an additional 3 min period of rest. Children were then provided with an external excuse for why the task was challenging (i.e., due to a research assistant mistake) and then completed a 3 min distractor task.

  2. 2.

    The pattern of significant effects was consistent when also including dummy coded variables of stimulant medication use and SSRI use as covariates.

  3. 3.

    Missing data can be seen based on the sample sizes presented in Table 1. Teachers did not complete the BRIEF for 14 children. Physiological reactivity data were treated as missing for one child due to extreme behavior problems. Due to equipment failure, RSA data was missing for four additional participants.

  4. 4.

    Two participants indicated suspicion that the impossible puzzle task was rigged and two other participants indicated suspicion that the social rejection task was rigged during the debriefing procedure; however, these subjects reported that they were unsure if their suspicion was correct while they completed the task. Treating reactivity data for these participants as missing did not change the pattern of results; hence, their data was retained in the final analyses.

  5. 5.

    Analyses were also run with ADHD diagnosis as a dichotomous variable; all significant interactions remained and no new results emerged. Given that the current sample includes children with subthreshold ADHD, using ADHD symptomatology as a moderator was viewed as a more appropriate measurement approach.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to the families and teachers who generously participated in this study. We would like to acknowledge Rose Miller, Elizabeth Mathias, Angelina Gomez, Taylor Penzel, and Kristy Larsen for their important role in collecting this data.

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Correspondence to Rosanna P. Breaux.

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Informed consent was obtained from all parents included in the study; assent was obtained from all children included in the study.

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Breaux, R.P., McQuade, J.D., Harvey, E.A. et al. Longitudinal Associations of Parental Emotion Socialization and Children’s Emotion Regulation: The Moderating Role of ADHD Symptomatology. J Abnorm Child Psychol 46, 671–683 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-017-0327-0

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Keywords

  • Emotion socialization
  • Emotion regulation
  • ADHD
  • Respiratory sinus arrythmia
  • Skin conductance level