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Longitudinal Links among Mother and Child Emotion Regulation, Maternal Emotion Socialization, and Child Anxiety

Abstract

Models of transdiagnostic family emotion processes recognize parents’ emotion-related characteristics and behaviors as key contributors to child emotional development and psychological functioning. One such psychological outcome, child anxiety, is prevalent and early emerging, underscoring the importance of identifying early family- and emotion-related mechanisms involved in anxiety risk. We investigated the extent to which mother and child emotion-related traits and behaviors related to child anxiety in a community sample of 175 mother–child dyads. Using three time-points (child ages 2–4 years, assessments 1 year apart), we examined how mothers’ emotion dysregulation predicted their emotion socialization practices (either supportive or non-supportive) and children’s emotion regulation (ER; either attention- or caregiver-focused) over time, in relation to later child anxiety. Models controlled for child inhibited temperament and also tested the role of maternal anxiety in these trajectories. Mothers reported on their emotion dysregulation, emotion socialization, and their own and their child’s anxiety, whereas child ER and inhibited temperament were measured using laboratory observation. In supportive emotion socialization models, maternal emotion dysregulation predicted child anxiety 2 years later. An indirect effect emerged, such that greater maternal emotion dysregulation predicted greater non-supportive emotion socialization, which in turn related to children’s greater caregiver-focused ER. Maternal emotion dysregulation, maternal anxiety, and child inhibited temperament each predicted child anxiety above and beyond other variables, although their shared variance likely accounted for some of the results. Findings lend partial support to current theoretical models of transdiagnostic family emotion processes and child anxiety development, suggesting promising avenues of future research.

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Data Availability

The authors are not making a dataset publicly available as consent was not specifically sought from participants to do so. However, de-identified data will be distributed upon reasonable request.

Notes

  1. 1.

    We used gender-specific 10th percentile cutoffs for the Anxiety/Worry and Inhibition to Novelty ITSEA scores and clinical cut-off scores of the PAS subscales scores to identify that 30.4% (N = 34) met or exceeded the clinical cutoff for at least one measure, suggesting that anxious children were well represented in our sample.

  2. 2.

    We used PSWQ and SIAS sum scores of ≥ 54 and 34, respectively, to identify that 34.8% of mothers in our sample met or exceeded the clinical cutoff of at least one measure, suggesting that anxious mothers were well represented.

  3. 3.

    Maternal education (in years) and family annual income (r = 0.69, p < 0.001) were z-scored and averaged for SES.

  4. 4.

    We thank an anonymous reviewer for this paragraph’s suggestions and explanations.

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Funding

This study was funded by a grant from the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development to Elizabeth Kiel (R15 HD076158).

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Correspondence to Natalee N. Price.

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All study procedures were approved by the Miami University Institutional Review Board (protocol #s 00248r, 01026r) and adhere to the principles of the 1964 Helsinki Declaration. 

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Price, N.N., Kiel, E.J. Longitudinal Links among Mother and Child Emotion Regulation, Maternal Emotion Socialization, and Child Anxiety. Res Child Adolesc Psychopathol (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-021-00804-1

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Keywords

  • Emotion Dysregulation
  • Emotion Socialization
  • Emotion Regulation
  • Child Anxiety
  • Child Inhibited Temperament
  • Maternal Anxiety