Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 28, Issue 4, pp 1094–1104 | Cite as

Associations between Emotion Regulation and Parental Reflective Functioning

  • Alysse M. Schultheis
  • Linda C. Mayes
  • Helena J. V. RutherfordEmail author
Original Paper


Emotion regulation encapsulates the capability to successfully manage an ongoing emotional experience, particularly in social interactions, and thus may be especially significant to early parent-child relationships. In particular, the capacity to adjust emotions may support parental mentalization and reflective functioning – how parents think about their own and their child’s mental states and how these mental states effect behavior. To examine this issue, we investigated the association between emotion regulation, emotion dysregulation, and parental reflective functioning in a maternal sample (N = 97). We found that mothers with higher tendencies to suppress their emotions and who had more difficulties with emotion regulation engaged in greater levels of pre-mentalizing (i.e., a non-mentalizing mode). Mothers with poorer emotional awareness also evidenced less interest and curiosity in their child’s mental states. Finally, mothers who reported greater difficulty setting goals also evidenced a reduced capacity to recognize that their infant’s mental states are not directly observable. Taken together, our findings support the relationship between different aspects of emotion regulation and maternal reflective functioning, suggesting that emotion regulation should be integrated in empirical and intervention work that targets maternal mentalization.


Motherhood Emotion regulation Parental reflective functioning Mentalization Parenting 


Author Contributions

A.M.S collaborated with the design of the study, analyzed the data, and wrote the manuscript. L.C.M collaborated with the design of the study and editing of the final manuscript. H.J.V.R collaborated with the design of the study, assisted with the data analysis, and collaborated in writing the manuscript.


This work was supported by the Anna Freud Centre and NICHD R21 HD072574-01.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the 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.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alysse M. Schultheis
    • 1
  • Linda C. Mayes
    • 1
  • Helena J. V. Rutherford
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Yale Child Study CenterNew HavenUSA

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