Category: Child / Adolescent - Anxiety
Background: Research has found that a temperamental predisposition toward negative mood increases risk for anxiety and depression difficulties among children. Studies have also found that maternal emotion socialization practices, including excessive parental negativity and distress in response to children’s negative emotions, are associated with childhood anxiety and depression symptoms. However, the role of childhood temperament and maternal emotion socialization in childhood anxiety sensitivity—a well-established risk factor for childhood anxiety and related disorders—remains unexplored. In particular, work is needed to examine whether maternal distress reactions to children’s emotions may be an underlying mechanism in the relationship between depressive temperament and heightened anxiety sensitivity. The present study hypothesized that a depressed temperament would be positively related to childhood anxiety sensitivity, and that this relation would be moderated by maternal distress reactions.
Method: Clinically anxious children ages 8 – 12 (N = 63; 62% female; Mage = 9.87 years, SD = 1.28; 33% Hispanic) and their clinically anxious mothers (Mage = 39.03 years, SD = 7.85; 43% White) completed a test battery that included a structured diagnostic interview and measures of maternal coping responses in response to young children’s negative emotions (Coping with Children's Negative Emotions Scale [CCNES]; Fabes, Eisenberg, & Bernzweig, 1990), childhood temperament (Early Adolescent Temperament Questionnaire-Revised [EATQ-R]; Ellis & Rothbart, 2001), and anxiety sensitivity (Child Anxiety Sensitivity Index [CASI]; Silverman, Fleisig, Rabian, & Peterson, 2010).
Results: Hayes’ (2012) PROCESS modeling was used to examine the moderating effect of maternal distress reactions on the relationship between depressive mood and childhood anxiety sensitivity. The overall model was significant (F [3, 59] = 12.06, p < .01) and explained 38% of the variance in anxiety sensitivity. The interaction term was also significant and accounted for 5.2% of variance in the model (F [1, 59] = 4.95, p = .03). Simple slopes analyses revealed that the effect of child depressive temperament on anxiety sensitivity was significant at moderate and high, but not low, levels (p < .01), of maternal distress reactions.
Conclusions: Findings suggest that maternal distress reactions may exacerbate the impact of depressive temperament on childhood anxiety sensitivity. Mothers who react with excessive distress to children’s negative emotions may foster fear of anxiety-related sensations, especially in the context of an at-risk temperament. Teaching clinically anxious mothers how to react appropriately to children’s displays of emotion may thus be a valid intervention target.
Clinical Psychology Doctoral Student
University of Houston