Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Marjorie Beeghly

Second Advisor

Erika Bocknek


Parental posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been shown to negatively impact children’s socioemotional development (Schwerdtfeger et al., 2014) and increase children’s risk for later psychopathology (Scheeringa & Zeanah, 2008; Yehuda, Halligan, & Bierer, 2001). Less is known about this topic among minority and poor mothers and fathers of toddlers, and the critical role parents’ emotion regulation may play in mediating the associations between PTSD and toddlers’ socioemotional problems (Beck et al., 2009). Parental emotion dysregulation has been linked with children’s socioemotional problems (Coyne & Thompson, 2011), especially during toddlerhood when children are beginning to learn how to regulate their own emotions (Kopp, 1989). Evaluating both mothers’ and fathers’ PTSD, emotion regulation, and child behavior problems during toddlerhood is particularly important among urban populations due to high risk of trauma exposure (Evans & English, 2002). The current study aimed to examine internalizing and externalizing behavior problems in toddlers from low-income families, evaluating whether and how mothers’ and fathers’ PTSD, emotion regulation, and parenting are associated with toddler behavioral problems. It was hypothesized that the relationship between parents’ PTSD and toddlers’ internalizing and externalizing problems will be mediated by parents’ emotion regulation and parenting quality.

The current study describes data from a broader study of socioemotional development of toddlerhood among urban families (N=96). Mothers and fathers reported on their own PTSD symptoms (PDS; Foa et al., 1997), depression (CES-D; Radloff, 1977), emotion regulation (EDS, Conklin et al., 2006), and their toddlers’ behavior problems (CBCL; Achenbach & Rescorla, 2001). Parenting quality was coded based on observational data from a family drawing task, during which families drew pictures of happy and sad times they have had as a family. Children’s internalizing and externalizing problems were calculated by averaging the CBCL scores reported by both parents.

Primary analyses were conducted using Hayes PROCESS macro for multiple mediation (model 6; Hayes, 2013), controlling for maternal and paternal depression, and cumulative demographic risk. Findings indicated that (1) both mothers’ and fathers’ emotion regulation and depression, but not PTSD and parenting, were the main parental factors linked to higher internalizing behavior problems in toddlers, and only mothers’ cumulative demographic risk was significantly associated with toddlers’ externalizing behavior problems; (2) the associations between parental PTSD and child behavior problems was not mediated through emotion regulation and parenting; (3) fathers’ symptoms of emotion dysregulation and depression were as equally important in predicting toddler behavior problems as mothers’ emotion dysregulation and depression; (4) parental PTSD, emotion dysregulation, and depression were more strongly associated with toddlers’ internalizing problems than their externalizing problems.

Findings provide support for the negative impact of maternal and paternal emotion dysregulation, depression, and cumulative demographic risk on toddler internalizing and externalizing problems among low-income families and offer insight into essential avenues to implement interventions. Although parents’ PTSD symptoms may have an impact on toddlers’ behavior problems, their emotional dysregulation plays a more significant role. The focus mediator, paternal emotion regulation, appears to be a concrete target for clinical assessment and treatment.