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Emotion Regulation in Families of Children with Behavior Problems and Nonclinical Comparisons

Abstract

The current study compared parents’ emotion regulation (ER) in clinical (those with a child with externalizing behavioral problems) and low-risk comparison families. Additionally, mediation models were explored with parent ER predicting child behavior problems through child ER. Participants were 60 families with children (71.7% boys; 73% Caucasian) ages 2 through 8 years (M = 4.62; SD = 1.69) from a rural population in the United States: 34 clinical families referred for parent training and 26 nonclinical families. A blocking design was used to balance the two groups on key demographic characteristics. Parents’ and children’s ER was assessed using parent-report surveys and structured behavioral observations. Analyses indicated higher rates of parental emotion dysregulation (specifically, more difficulty when upset with achieving goal-directed behaviors, p = .01, d = 0.67; controlling impulses, p = .01, d = 0.64; limited use of ER strategies, p= .02, d = 0.62; and more negative verbalizations to their child during the observed task, p < .01, d = 0.73) and child emotion dysregulation (specifically, more difficulty as reported by parents, p< .01, d = −2.42) in the clinical group. Mediational analyses indicated there were indirect paths from parental ER to children’s behavioral problems through child ER. Findings from this research suggest a need to measure and target ER in both parents and their children when working with families who are referred for treatment of child behavior problems.

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Acknowledgements

The present manuscript is based off of the first author’s master’s thesis conducted at West Virginia University.

Author Contributions

Author L.Q.: designed and executed the study, conducted the data analyses, wrote the paper, and edited the final manuscript. Author N.W.: collaborated with the design and study execution, aided in writing of the study, and edited the final paper. Author C.M.: designed the study, assisted with writing the paper, and edited the final manuscript. Author A.G.: assisted with running and interpreting the data analyses, writing the paper, and editing the final manuscript.

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Quetsch, L.B., Wallace, N.M., McNeil, C.B. et al. Emotion Regulation in Families of Children with Behavior Problems and Nonclinical Comparisons. J Child Fam Stud 27, 2467–2480 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-018-1081-9

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Keywords

  • Emotion regulation
  • Child behavior problems
  • Externalizing disorders
  • Parent–child relationships