Influence of Parental Emotion Scaffolding on Children’s Emotion Regulation, Social Functioning, and Behavior Problems

Friday, May 12, 2017: 5:00 PM-6:30 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
L. Berkovits1,2, B. Caplan2, A. Eisenhower3 and J. Blacher4, (1)UCEDD, Children's Hospital Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, (2)University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, (3)University of Massachusetts Boston, Boston, MA, (4)University of California - Riverside, Riverside, CA
Background: The development of emotion regulation remains understudied among children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In particular, little inquiry has been made into how parents influence children’s emotion regulation development, despite strong evidence for parents’ role in this area for typically developing children (Morales et al., 2005; Grolnick, Bridges & Connell, 1996). Furthermore, emotion dysregulation is closely related to social difficulties for children with typical development (e.g., Blandon, Calkins, & Keane, 2010; Brophy-Herb et al., 2013; Eisenberg et al., 1993) and children with ASD (e.g., Berkovits et al., 2016), suggesting that strategies that reduce dysregulation might lead to improvements in social functioning.

Objectives: Specific research questions addressed are: To what extent does parental scaffolding of children’s emotion understanding predict change in teacher ratings of children’s (1) emotion dysregulation, (2) behavioral difficulties, and (3) social skills?

Methods: This study examined emotion dysregulation in 4- to 7-year-old children with ASD (N=59) using data obtained from a multi-site longitudinal study collected at two timepoints, 10 months apart. Children’s ASD diagnoses were confirmed using the ADOS-2 and all children exhibited IQ ≥ 50. Parental scaffolding of children’s emotion understanding was observed and coded during an 8-minute parent-child shared reading task (with wordless picture books) at the first of two visits. A summary code captured the frequency and depth of parents’ emotion-related comments during the task. Children’s emotion regulation abilities were measured using teacher report on the Emotion Dysregulation Index of the Teacher Report Form (TRF-EDI; Achenbach & Rescorla, 2000, 2001; Samson et al., 2014) at both timepoints. Teachers also reported on children’s internalizing and externalizing behaviors on the TRF and social skills on the SSIS (Gresham & Elliott, 2008) at both timepoints.

Results: Hierarchical regressions showed that higher parental emotion scaffolding predicted improvement in teacher ratings of children’s emotion dysregulation across the two timepoints. Parental emotion scaffolding explained an additional 5.9% in variance in later ratings of children’s emotion dysregulation, after accounting for prior level of dysregulation (ΔR2=.059, p<.05). Higher parental emotion scaffolding also predicted significant improvement in teacher ratings of children’s internalizing behaviors, explaining an additional 5.7% of the variance in later ratings (ΔR2=.057, p<.05). Prediction of change in children’s externalizing behaviors was marginally significant (ΔR2=.045, p<.10). Parental emotion scaffolding did not directly predict change in children’s social skills across the two timepoints. However, mediation analyses (i.e., utilizing SPSS PROCESS macro with bootstrapping) found a significant indirect effect of parental emotion scaffolding on teacher ratings of social skills, whereby higher emotion scaffolding predicted improvement in child emotion dysregulation which, in turn, predicted improvement in social skills.

Conclusions: Parental emotion scaffolding predicted improvement across time in teacher ratings of child emotion dysregulation and behavior problems and indirectly predicted improvement in child social skills. Of note, this study used teacher measures to validate the influence of parental emotion scaffolding, reducing shared method variance in determining the effects of parenting on child behavior. These findings could inform interventions to teach parents how to support their children’s emotion regulation development and social and behavioral functioning.