Mothers’ contingent reactions toward children’s emotions: Exploring the role of emotion regulation, experiential avoidance, and affective symptoms



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Parents are considered to be especially influential in the socialization of children’s emotion (Halberstadt, 1991). Nonsupportive contingent reactions have been found to be associated with a number of negative outcomes in children (see Eisenberg, Cumberland, & Spinrad, 1998 for a review). Conversely, parents who are more supportive in their responses to children’s emotions have children who utilize more adaptive coping strategies (i.e., Eisenberg, Cumberland, et al., 1998; McDowell et al., 2002; Valiente, Fabes, Eisenberg, & Spinrad, 2004). A sample of 124 children (age range: 10-12 years; M = 10.75, SD = .93) and their mothers participated in this study to address several gaps within the emotion socialization literature. Multiple mediation analyses revealed mothers’ contingent reactions (supportive and nonsupportive) did not have an indirect effect on children’s depression/anxiety through children’s emotion dysregulation, emotion inhibition, and experiential avoidance after controlling for overlapping affective symptoms. In addition, mothers’ warmth or control did not moderate the relation between mothers’ contingent reactions and children’s emotional inhibition. Finally, mothers’ experiential avoidance did not moderate the relation between mothers’ nonsupportive contingent reactions (both mother- and child-report) and children’s emotion dysregulation. In a more exploratory hypothesis, mothers’ supportive contingent reactions, nonsupportive contingent reactions, and parental distress did not mediate the relation between mothers’ and children’s experiential avoidance. However, mothers’ experiential avoidance had an indirect effect on children’s experiential avoidance through parental distress (child-report). Research and clinical implications are discussed, along with limitations and directions for future research.



Anxiety, Depression, Children, Emotion regulation, Experiential avoidance, Parenting, Contingent reactions, Mothers