Maternal Emotion Regulation Difficulties and the Intergenerational Transmission of Risk

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Maternal depression is a robust risk factor for heightened internalizing symptoms in offspring. Studies also suggest that maternal depression is associated with greater maternal emotion regulation (ER) difficulties. However, emotion regulation has been conceptualized as a multidimensional construct, and few studies have identified specific components of ER related to maternal depression and the role these components may play in the relationship between maternal depression and child internalizing symptoms. Mothers (n = 73) of young children (ages 4–9; 42 females), recruited from both clinical and community settings, reported their depression symptoms and emotion regulation difficulties. Children’s internalizing symptoms were assessed using both parental report and a semi-structured clinical interview. Regression analyses revealed that maternal depression symptoms were positively related to maternal ER, specifically, limited access to emotion regulation strategies and non-acceptance of emotional responses. Structural equation models revealed that the relation between maternal depression and child internalizing problems was mediated only through mother’s limited access to emotion regulation strategies. Our findings offer new insight for targeting mothers’ limited access to emotion strategies as a novel early intervention method to help break the intergenerational transmission of internalizing symptoms from mother to child.