Adaptive mother–adolescent conflict interactions are characterized by the ability to move from negative to positive emotions. The current micro-observational study investigated how mothers and adolescents make transitions between positive, neutral and negative emotions and whether these transitions depend on maternal internalizing problems. We used three annual waves of conflict interaction observations among 102 mother–adolescent dyads. Mothers were more likely than adolescents to initiate positivity after negativity whereas adolescents were more likely than mothers to reciprocate negativity. Mothers high and low in internalizing problems were equally likely to drive transitions toward positivity. Our study indicates that an active role of mothers in regulating negativity toward positivity is desirable because adolescents are likely to maintain dysfunctional interaction patterns of rigid negativity.