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Keep it to yourself? Parent emotion suppression influences physiological linkage and interaction behavior.


Parents can influence children's emotional responses through direct and subtle behavior. In this study we examined how parents' acute stress responses might be transmitted to their 7- to 11-year-old children and how parental emotional suppression would affect parents' and children's physiological responses and behavior. Parents and their children (N = 214; Ndyads = 107; 47% fathers) completed a laboratory visit where we initially separated the parents and children and subjected the parent to a standardized laboratory stressor that reliably activates the body's primary stress systems. Before reuniting with their children, parents were randomly assigned to either suppress their affective state-hide their emotions from their child-or to act naturally (control condition). Once reunited, parents and children completed a conflict conversation and two interaction tasks together. We measured their sympathetic nervous system (SNS) responses and observed interaction behavior. We obtained three key findings: (a) suppressing mothers' SNS responses influenced their child's SNS responses; (b) suppressing fathers' SNS responses were influenced by their child's SNS responses; and (c) dyads with suppressing parents appeared less warm and less engaged during interaction than control dyads. These findings reveal that parents' emotion regulation efforts impact parent-child stress transmission and compromise interaction quality. Discussion focuses on short-term and long-term consequences of parental emotion regulation and children's social-emotional development. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).

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