Emotion regulation in sexually abused preschoolers: The contribution of parental factors

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Journal of Traumatic Stress, 29(2), 180–184

Child sexual abuse (CSA) is associated with emotion regulation deficits in childhood. Parents play a crucial role in the development of emotion regulation in their children, especially at younger ages. Close to 50% of mothers of sexually abused children report having been sexually victimized themselves as children. They are consequently at risk of experiencing significant distress following the disclosure of sexual abuse of their child. Parents' distress could interfere with their ability to provide support and to foster development of emotion regulation in their children. The aim of the present study was to explore the relationship of parental factors (history of sexual victimization in childhood and the current level of distress) to sexually abused preschoolers' emotion regulation competencies. Emotion regulation was assessed in 153 preschoolers by their parents with the Emotion Regulation Checklist; 75 of these children were abused (14 boys); 78 were not abused (21 boys) and were part of a comparison group. Parents reported their level of distress using the Psychiatric Symptom Index. Results indicated that parental factors contributed to some dimensions of preschoolers' emotion regulation (namely displays of underregulation of emotion) above and beyond children's victimization status and gender (Cohen's ƒ(2) = .15). Identifying parental distress and history of sexual victimization as positively associated with emotional dysregulation in preschool children victims of CSA has important research and clinical implications.

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