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Maternal Emotion Regulation Difficulties and the Intergenerational Transmission of Risk

Abstract

Maternal depression is a robust risk factor for heightened internalizing symptoms in offspring. Studies also suggest that maternal depression is associated with greater maternal emotion regulation (ER) difficulties. However, emotion regulation has been conceptualized as a multidimensional construct, and few studies have identified specific components of ER related to maternal depression and the role these components may play in the relationship between maternal depression and child internalizing symptoms. Mothers (n = 73) of young children (ages 4–9; 42 females), recruited from both clinical and community settings, reported their depression symptoms and emotion regulation difficulties. Children’s internalizing symptoms were assessed using both parental report and a semi-structured clinical interview. Regression analyses revealed that maternal depression symptoms were positively related to maternal ER, specifically, limited access to emotion regulation strategies and non-acceptance of emotional responses. Structural equation models revealed that the relation between maternal depression and child internalizing problems was mediated only through mother’s limited access to emotion regulation strategies. Our findings offer new insight for targeting mothers’ limited access to emotion strategies as a novel early intervention method to help break the intergenerational transmission of internalizing symptoms from mother to child.

Highlights

  • Maternal depression was associated with internalizing symptoms in young children.

  • Maternal depression was associated with differential components of emotion regulation difficulties.

  • Mothers’ limited access to emotion regulation strategies mediated maternal depression and child’s internalizing symptoms.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank the University of Michigan Department of Psychiatry; the Kid Power research team and NICHD.

Funding

This work was supported by the Susan Nolen-Hoeksema Postdoctoral Fellowship awarded to K.I.I., and the National Institutes of Mental Health (R03MH102648; MPI: K.R., K.F.), and the Strategic Translational Research Awards (PI: K.I.I.).

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Ip, K.I., McCrohan, M., Morelen, D. et al. Maternal Emotion Regulation Difficulties and the Intergenerational Transmission of Risk. J Child Fam Stud 30, 2367–2378 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-021-02019-w

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Keywords

  • Maternal depression
  • Emotion regulation
  • Internalizing symptoms
  • Intergenerational
  • Young children