Socialization in the Context of Risk and Psychopathology: Maternal Emotion Socialization in Children of Incarcerated Mothers

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Abstract

Children of incarcerated mothers are at increased risk for psychological, social, and emotional maladaptation. This research investigates whether perceived maternal socialization of sadness and anger may moderate these outcomes in a sample of 154 children (53.9 percent boys, 61.7 percent Black, M age = 9.38, range: 6–12), their 118 mothers (64.1 percent Black), and 118 caregivers (74.8 percent female, 61.9 percent grandparents, 63.2 percent Black). Using mother, caregiver, and child report, seven maternal socialization strategies were assessed in their interaction with incarceration-specific risk experiences predicting children's adjustment. For sadness socialization, the results indicated that among children reporting maternal emotion-focused responses, incarceration-specific risk predicted increases in psychological problems, depressive symptoms, increased emotional lability, and poorer emotion regulation. For children who perceived a problem-focused response, incarceration-specific risk did not predict outcomes. There were no significant interactions with incarceration-specific risk and perceived maternal anger socialization strategies. These results indicate a critical need to examine how socialization processes may operate differently for children raised in atypical socializing contexts.

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