Social Risk and Internalizing Distress in Middle Childhood: The Moderating Role of Emotion Regulation Processes

  • Cara M. McClainEmail author
  • S. Taylor Younginer
  • L. Christian Elledge
Original Paper



This study examined whether the relation between peer victimization or rejection and internalizing distress (anxiety and depressive symptoms) was moderated by emotion regulation processes in a sample of elementary schoolers.


Analyses were based on a sample of 476 third and fourth-grade children (M = 9.16 years). Data were collected in the fall and spring of one academic year. Peer-reported victimization and rejection were assessed through a peer nomination inventory. Child-reported victimization, anxiety, depressive symptoms, and emotion regulation were assessed via self-report measures.


Findings from multiple group path models provided evidence that girls scoring higher on peer rejection and boys scoring higher on peer-reported relational victimization reported fewer depressive symptoms in the spring when scoring lower on expressive suppression (girls: β = 0.157, SE = 0.067, p = 0.019; boys: β = 0.239, SE = 0.099, p = 0.016). Alternatively, boys scoring higher on self-reported peer victimization in the fall reported fewer anxiety symptoms in the spring when scoring higher on expressive suppression (β = −0.260, SE = 0.117, p = 0.027) or lower on cognitive reappraisal (β = 0.246, SE = 0.097, p = 0.011). Boys’ peer-reported victimization emerged as a positive predictor of anxiety in the spring, but only at high levels of cognitive reappraisal (β = 0.284, SE = 0.128, p = 0.026).


Results suggest that expressing emotion is a useful process for reducing depressive symptoms in rejected girls and relationally victimized boys. For boys, suppressing emotion may reduce the risk for developing anxiety as a consequence of peer victimization. Results suggest cognitive reappraisal is not an effective strategy for reducing anxiety in boys as a consequence of peer victimization. This study helps inform our understanding of the role of emotion regulation in relation between peer relationship difficulties and internalizing distress.


Peer victimization Peer rejection Internalizing distress Expressive suppression Cognitive reappraisal 


Author Contribution

All authors contributed to the conceptualization, analysis, interpretation of results, writing, and editing.

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. This project was approved by the University of Tennessee – Knoxville Institutional Review Board.

Informed Consent

Written parental consent and child assent were obtained for all participating children prior to study participation.


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

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA

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