Parental Emotion Regulation: Relations with Sensitive and Engaged Parenting and Psychological Distress
Sensitive parenting requires modulation of emotions in order to effectively organize and orient behavioral responses. There is considerable evidence that psychological distress is one of many factors that can negatively impact parenting practices. Difficulties in emotion regulation may be a pathway for the impact of psychological distress on parenting, as emotion regulation has been implicated in psychological distress; however, emotion regulation is not often examined in parenting models. The current study tested these relations in a low-income, community sample of caregivers of preschoolers (n = 64; age range 18-74 years). Results indicated that difficulties in emotion regulation mediated the relation between psychological distress and parenting sensitive engagement (b = -0.48, SE = 0.24, CI [-1.04, -0.07]). Difficulties in emotion regulation predicted decreased sensitive engagement, above and beyond the effect of psychological distress (b = -.69, SE = .33, t = -2.07, p = .044, CI [-1.35, -.20]). However, there was no total effect of psychological distress on sensitive engagement (b = -0.04, SE = 0.26, t = -0.13, p = .893, CI [-0.56, 0.49]). Acceptance of emotional responses (b = -0.34, SE = 0.15, p = .017, CI [-0.66, -0.11]) and clarity (b = -0.50, SE = 0.24, p = .025, CI [-0.97, -0.05]), or understanding of emotions, were found to predict sensitive engagement above and beyond the other dimensions of emotion regulation. Results suggest that emotion regulation is a process by which psychological distress affects parents’ sensitive engagement with their preschool-aged children. Additionally, acceptance and clarity are two dimensions of emotion regulation that may be more relevant for parents’ sensitive engagement than other dimensions.