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Parents’ Maltreatment Histories, Dimensions of Emotion Regulation, and Connections to Offspring Self-Regulation: A Sex-Specific Transmission Pathway

Abstract

Parents with childhood maltreatment histories are at risk for emotion regulation (ER) problems, which are associated with reduced self-regulation among their offspring. However, gaps remain in the literature regarding this indirect transmission pathway. First, ER consists of multiple dimensions and it is unclear which dimension is most affected by childhood maltreatment. Second, less is known regarding which parental ER dimension is linked to offspring self-regulation. Thus, the present study aimed to examine the direct and indirect associations between parental maltreatment histories and child self-regulatory capacity via dimensions of parental ER. In this cross-sectional study, 101 youth (75% African American/Black; 53% female; Mage = 10.28; SD = 1.19) and their primary caregivers were recruited from a low-income community in the Southeastern United States. Structural equation modeling was used to model the effect of parents’ self-reported childhood maltreatment on youth physiological self-regulation (measured by heart rate variability reactivity [HRV-R]), via parents’ self-reported ER. Parental maltreatment history was significantly associated with five of the six components of ER. Further, the indirect effect of parents’ childhood maltreatment on child HRV-R was significant when parents reported more difficulty engaging goal-directed behaviors. Moderation analyses by sex showed that daughters had greater dysregulation regardless of parental maltreatment histories, while parents’ ER was found to play a more significant role in the intergenerational transmission of dysregulation to sons. The current study extends the literature on self-regulation development in children of low-income, maltreatment-exposed parents. Our study may inform parent-child interventions for improving self-regulation.

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Funding

This study was funded by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health (grant number UL1TR002378- Oshri PI), and partially supported through the National Institute on Drug Abuse (grant number 5K01DA045219–02-PI Oshri).

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Correspondence to Kimberly R. Osborne.

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Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Conflict of Interest

Author A and Author B declare that they have no conflict of interest. Author C and Author D have received research grants from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health and Author D has received research grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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Informed consent and assent were attained from all parents and youth, respectively.

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Osborne, K.R., Duprey, E.B., Caughy, M.O. et al. Parents’ Maltreatment Histories, Dimensions of Emotion Regulation, and Connections to Offspring Self-Regulation: A Sex-Specific Transmission Pathway. J Psychopathol Behav Assess 43, 717–729 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10862-021-09881-4

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10862-021-09881-4

Keywords

  • Emotion regulation
  • Heart rate variability
  • Intergenerational effects of maltreatment
  • Childhood maltreatment history
  • Sex differences
  • Moderated mediation