Intergenerational transmission of risk for PTSD symptoms in African American children: The roles of maternal and child emotion dysregulation

Psychol Trauma. 2022 Oct;14(7):1099-1106. doi: 10.1037/tra0000543. Epub 2020 Jan 2.


Objective: Emotion dysregulation is a transdiagnostic risk factor for many mental health disorders and develops in the context of early trauma exposure. Research suggests intergenerational risk associated with trauma exposure and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), such that maternal trauma experiences and related symptoms can negatively impact child outcomes across development. The goals of the present study were to examine child and mother correlates of child PTSD symptoms and the unique roles of child and maternal emotion dysregulation in understanding child PTSD symptoms.

Method: Subjects included 105 African American mother-child dyads from an urban hospital serving primarily low-income minority individuals.

Results: Correlational results showed that child trauma exposure, child emotion dysregulation, maternal depressive symptoms, maternal emotion dysregulation, and potential for maternal child abuse all were significantly associated with child PTSD symptoms (ps < 0.05). Hierarchical linear regression models revealed that child trauma exposure, maternal depression, and maternal abuse potential accounted for 29% of the variance in child PTSD symptoms (p < 0.001). Both child emotion dysregulation (Rchange² = 0.14, p < .001) and maternal emotion dysregulation (Rchange² = 0.04, p < .05) were significantly associated with child PTSD symptoms independent of other risk factors and potential for maternal abuse was no longer a significant predictor.

Conclusions: These results suggest that maternal emotion dysregulation may be an important factor in influencing their child's PTSD symptoms above and beyond child-specific variables. Both maternal and child emotion dysregulation could be valuable treatment targets for improving maternal mental health and parenting behaviors and bolstering child health outcomes, thus reducing intergenerational transmission of risk associated with trauma. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Black or African American
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mothers / psychology
  • Parenting
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / psychology