Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 27, Issue 8, pp 2467–2480 | Cite as

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

  • Lauren B. QuetschEmail author
  • Nancy M. Wallace
  • Cheryl B. McNeil
  • Amy L. Gentzler
Original Paper


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.


Emotion regulation Child behavior problems Externalizing disorders Parent–child relationships 



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.

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 West Virginia University’s 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.


  1. Achenbach, T. M., & Rescorla, L. A. (2001). Manual for ASEBA school-aged forms & profiles. Burlington, VA: University of Vermont, Research Center for Children, Youth, & Families.Google Scholar
  2. Adrian, M., Zeman, J., & Veits, G. (2011). Methodological implications of the affect revolution: A 35-year review of emotion regulation assessment in children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 110, 171–197.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Are, F., & Shaffer, A. (2016). Family emotion expressiveness mediates the relations between maternal emotion regulation and child emotion regulation. Child Psychiatry & Human Development, 47, 708–715.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Ashiabi, G. S. (2000). Promoting the emotional development of preschoolers. Early Childhood Education Journal, 28(2), 79–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bariola, E., Hughes, E. K., & Gullone, E. (2012). Relationships between parent and child emotion regulation strategy use: A brief report. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 21, 443–448.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bonn-Miller, M. O., Vujanovic, A. A., Boden, M. T., & Gross, J. J. (2011). Posttraumatic stress, difficulties in emotion regulation, and coping-oriented marijuana use. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, 40, 34–44.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Calkins, S. D. (1994). Origins and outcomes of individual differences in emotion regulation. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 59, 53–72.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Calkins, S. D., & Dedmon, S. A. (2000). Physiological and behavioral regulation in two-year-old children with aggressive/destructive behavior problems. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 28, 103–118.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Calkins, S. D., Dedmon, S. E., Gill, K. L., Lomax, L. E., & Johnson, L. M. (2002). Frustration in infancy: Implications for emotion regulation, physiological processes, and temperament. Infancy, 3, 175–197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Calkins, S. D., & Hill, A. (2006). Caregiver influences on emerging emotion regulation: Biological and environmental transactions in early development. In J. J. Gross (Ed.), Handbook of emotion regulation (pp. 229–248). New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  11. Carrère, S., & Bowie, B. H. (2012). Like parent, like child: Parent and child emotion dysregulation. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 26(3), e23–30.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Chang, L., Schwartz, D., Dodge, K. A., & McBride-Chang, C. (2003). Harsh parenting in relation to child emotion regulation and aggression. Journal of Family Psychology, 17, 598–606.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  13. Cole, P. M., Dennis, T. A., Smith-Simon, K. E., & Cohen, L. H. (2008). Preschoolers’ emotion regulation strategy understanding: Relations with emotion socialization and child self-regulation. Social Development, 18, 324–352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cole, P. M., Michel, M. K., & Teti, L. O. (1994). The development of emotion regulation and dysregulation: A clinical perspective. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 59, 73–100.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Cole, P. M., Teti, L. O., & Zahn-Waxler, C. (2003). Mutual emotion regulation and the stability of conduct problems between preschool and early school age. Development and Psychopathology, 15, 1–18.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Crespo, L. M., Trentacosta, C. J., Aikins, D., & Wargo-Aikins, J. (2017). Maternal emotion regulation and children’s behavior problems: The mediating role of child emotion regulation. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 26, 2797–2809.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cummings, E. M., Keller, P. S., & Davies, P. T. (2005). Towards a family process model of maternal and paternal depressive symptoms: Exploring multiple relations with child and family functioning. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 46, 479–489.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Deater-Deckard, K. (2004). Parenting stress. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dishion, T. J., French, D. C., & Patterson, G. R. (1995). The development and ecology of antisocial behavior. In D. Cicchetti & D. Cohen (Eds.), Manual of developmental psychopathology (pp. 421–471). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  20. Duncombe, M. E., Havighurst, S. S., Holland, K. A., & Frankling, E. J. (2012). The contribution of parenting practices and parent emotion factors in children at risk for disruptive behavior disorders. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 43, 715–733.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Eamon, M. K., & Venkataraman, M. (2003). Implementing parent management training in the context of poverty. American Journal of Family Therapy, 31, 281–293.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Eddy, J. M., Leve, L. D., & Fagot, B. I. (2001). Coercive family processes: A replication and extension of Patterson’s coercion model. Aggressive Behavior, 27, 14–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Eisenberg, N., & Morris, A. S. (2002). Children’s emotion-related regulation. In R. V. Kail (Ed.), Advances in child development and behavior (Vol. 30, pp. 189–229). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  24. Eisenberg, N., Zhou, Q., Spinrad, T. L., Valiente, C., Fabes, R. A., & Liew, J. (2005). Relations among positive parenting, children’s effortful control, and externalizing problems: A three-wave longitudinal study. Child Development, 76, 1055–1071.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  25. Eyberg, S. M., Nelson, M. M., Duke, M., & Boggs, S. R. (2005). Manual for the parent-child interaction coding system. 3rd edn. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  26. Eyberg, S. M., & Pincus, D. (1999). Eyberg child behavior inventory and Sutter-Eyberg behavior inventory- revised: Professional manual. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.Google Scholar
  27. Fosco, G. M., & Grych, J. H. (2012). Capturing the family context of emotion regulation: A family systems model comparison approach. Journal of Family Issues, 34, 557–578.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Gaensbauer, T. J., & Mrazek, D. (1981). Difference in the patterning of affective expression in infants. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 20, 673–691.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Garner, P. W. (1995). Toddlers’ emotion regulation behaviors: The roles of social context and family expressiveness. The Journal of Genetic Psychology: Research and Theory on Human Development, 156, 417–430.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Gratz, K. L., & Roemer, L. (2004). Multidimensional assessment of emotion regulation and dysregulation: Development, factor structure, and initial validation of the difficulties in emotion regulation scale. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 26, 41–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Gross, J. J. (1998). The emerging field of emotion regulation: An integrative review. Review of General Psychology, 2, 271–299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Gross, J. J., & Levenson, R. W. (1997). Hiding feelings: The acute effects of inhibiting positive and negative emotions. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 106, 95–103.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Harmer, A. L. M., Sanderson, J., & Mertin, P. (1999). Influence of negative childhood experiences on psychological functioning, social support, and parenting for mothers recovering from addiction. Child Abuse & Neglect, 23, 421–433.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Harrison, A., Sullivan, S., Tchanturia, K., & Teasure, J. (2009). Emotion recognition and regulation in anorexia nervosa. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 16, 348–356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Havighurst, S. S., Wilson, K. R., Harley, A. E., & Prior, M. R. (2009). Tuning in to kids: An emotion-focused parenting program – initial findings from a community trial. Journal of Community Psychology, 37, 1008–1023.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Havighurst, S. S., Wilson, K. R., Harley, A. E., Prior, M. R., & Kehoe, C. (2010). Tuning in to kids: Improving emotion socialization practices in parents of preschool children – findings from a community trial. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 51, 1342–1350.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Hayes, A. F. (2013). Introduction to mediation, moderation, and conditional process analysis: A regression-based approach. New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  38. Henggeler, S. W., Borduin, C. M., & Mann, B. J. (1987). Intrafamily agreement: Association with clinical status, social desirability, and observational rating. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 8, 97–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Hourigan, S. E., Goodman, K. L., & Southam-Gerow, M. A. (2011). Discrepancies in parents’ and children’s reports of child emotion regulation. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 110, 198–212.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. IBM Corp. (2013). IBM SPSS Statistics for Windows, Version 22.0. Armonk, NY: IBM Corp.Google Scholar
  41. Katz, L. F., & Windecker-Nelson, B. (2004). Parental meta-emotion philosophy in families with conduct-problem children: Links with peer relations. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 12, 385–398.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Keenan, K., & Wakschlag, L. (2004). Are ODD and CD symptoms normative behaviors in preschoolers? A comparison of referred and non‐referred children. American Journal of Psychiatry, 161, 356–358.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Koblinsky, S. A., Kuvalanka, K. A., & Randolph, S. M. (2006). Social skills and behavior problems of urban, African American preschoolers: Role of parenting practices, family conflict, and maternal depression. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 76, 554–563.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Lopes, P. N., Salovey, P., Cote, S., Beers, M., & Petty, R. (2005). Emotion regulation abilities and the quality of social interaction. Emotion, 5, 113–118.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Macklem, G. L. (2008). Practitioner’s guide to emotion regulation in school-aged children. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  46. Mammen, O. K., Kolko, D. J., & Pilkonis, P. A. (2003). Parental cognitions and satisfaction: Relationship to aggressive parental behavior in child physical abuse. Child Maltreatment, 8, 288–301.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. Mathis, E. T. B., & Bierman, K. L. (2015). Dimensions of parenting associated with child prekindergarten emotion regulation and attention control in low-income families. Social Development, 24, 601–620.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Mazursky-Horowitz, H., Felton, J. W., MacPherson, L., Ehrlich, K. B., Cassidy, J., Lejuez, C. W., & Chronis-Tuscano, A. (2015). Maternal emotion regulation mediates the association between adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms and parenting. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 43, 121–131.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. McNeil, C. B., & Hembree-Kigin, T. L. (2010). Parent-child interaction therapy. New York, NY: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Melnick, S. M., & Hinshaw, S. (2000). Emotion regulation and parenting in AD/HD and comparison boys: Linkages with social behaviors and peer preference. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 28, 73–86.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Morelen, D., Shaffer, A., & Suveg, C. (2016). Maternal emotion regulation: Links to emotion parenting and child emotion regulation. Journal of Family Issues, 37, 1891–1916.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Morris, A. S., Silk, J. S., Morris, M. D., Steinberg, L., Aucoin, K. J., & Keyes, A. W. (2011). The influence of mother-child emotion regulation strategies on children’s expression of anger and sadness. Developmental Psychology, 47, 213–225.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  53. Morris, A. S., Silk, J. S., Steinberg, L., Myers, S. S., & Robinson, L. R. (2007). The role of the family context in the development of emotion regulation. Social Development, 16, 361–388.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  54. Ortega, V. (2009). Specificity of age differences in emotion regulation. Aging Mental Health, 13, 818–826.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Patterson, G. R., & Capaldi, D. M. (1991). Antisocial parents: Unskilled and vulnerable. In P. A. Cowan (Ed.), Family transitions (pp. 195–218). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  56. Patterson, G. R., Reid, J. B., & Dishion, T. J. (1992). Antisocial boys. Eugene, OR: Castalia.Google Scholar
  57. Pettit, G. S., & Arsiwalla, D. D. (2008). Commentary on special section on “Bidirectional parent-child relationships”: The continuing evolution of dynamic, transactional models of parenting and youth behavior problems. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 36, 711–718.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  58. Pettit, G. S., Bates, J. E., & Dodge, K. A. (1997). Supportive parenting, ecological context, and children’s adjustment: A seven-year longitudinal study. Child Development, 68, 908–923.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  59. Ramsden, S. R., & Hubbard, J. A. (2002). Family expressiveness and parental emotion coaching: Their role in children’s emotion regulation and aggression. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 30, 657–667.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  60. Richerson, L. A. (2008). Behavioral, cognitive, and affective predictors of child conduct problems in the context of parent-child interactions. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 68, 8410.Google Scholar
  61. Robinson, E. A., & Eyberg, S. M. (1981). The dyadic parent-child interaction coding system: Standardization and validation. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 49, 245–250.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  62. Sala, M. N., Pons, F., & Molina, P. (2014). Emotion regulation strategies in preschool children. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 32, 440–453.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  63. Shaffer, A., & Obradovic, J. (2017). Unique contributions of emotion regulation and executive functions in predicting the quality of parent-child interaction behaviors. Journal of Family Psychology, 31(2), 150–159.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  64. Shields, A., & Cicchetti, D. (1997). Emotion regulation among school-age children: The development and validation of a new criterion q-sort scale. Developmental Psychology, 33, 906–916.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  65. Slep, A. M. S., & O’Leary, S. G. (1998). The effects of maternal attributions on parenting: An experimental analysis. Journal of Family Psychology, 12, 234–243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Snyder, J., Cramer, A., Afrank, J., & Patterson, G. R. (2005). The contributions of ineffective discipline and parental hostile attributions of child misbehavior to the development of conduct problems at home and school. Developmental Psychology, 41, 30–41.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  67. Stegge, H., & Terwogt, M. M. (2007). Awareness and regulation of emotion in typical and atypical development. In J. J. Gross (Ed.), Handbook of emotion regulation (pp. 269–286). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  68. Stifter, C. A., & Braungart, J. M. (1995). The regulation of negative reactivity in infancy: Function and development. Developmental Psychology, 31, 448–455.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Stifter, C., Spinrad, T., & Braungart-Reiker, J. (1999). Toward a developmental model of child compliance: The role of emotion regulation in infancy. Child Development, 70, 21–32.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  70. Thompson, R. A. (1994). Emotion regulation: A theme in search of definition. In N. A. Fox (Ed.), The development of emotion regulation: Biological and behavioral considerations (pp. 25–52). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  71. Urquiza, A. J., & McNeil, C. B. (1996). Parent-Child Interaction Therapy: An intensive dyadic intervention for physically abusive families. Child Maltreatment, 1, 134–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Walcott, C. M., & Landau, S. (2004). The relation between disinhibition and emotion regulation in boys with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 33, 772–782.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  73. Wallace, N. M., Quetsch, L. B., Robinson, C., Gentzler, A. L., & McNeil, C. B. (2015). Emotion regulation difficulties in caregivers and children: Transmission, influences, and implications for parent-training approaches. In A. M. Columbus (Ed.), Advances in psychology research, volume 109 (pp. 27–46). New York, NY: Nova Science Publishers.Google Scholar
  74. Walton, A., & Flouri, E. (2010). Contextual risk, maternal parenting and adolescent externalizing behavior problems: The role of emotion regulation. Child: Care, Health and Development, 36, 275–284.Google Scholar
  75. Zisser, A., & Eyberg, S. M. (2010). Treating oppositional behavior in children using parent-child interaction therapy. In A. E. Kazdin & J. R. Weisz (Eds.), Evidence-based psychotherapies for children and adolescents. 2nd edn (pp. 179–193). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lauren B. Quetsch
    • 1
    Email author
  • Nancy M. Wallace
    • 1
  • Cheryl B. McNeil
    • 1
  • Amy L. Gentzler
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyWest Virginia UniversityMorgantownUSA

Personalised recommendations