Maternal Anxiety, Parenting Stress, and Preschoolers' Behavior Problems: The Role of Child Self-Regulation

Stella Tsotsi, Birit F.P. Broekman, Lit Wee Sim, Lynette P. Shek, Kok Hian Tan, Yap Seng Chong, Anqi Qiu, Helen Y. Chen, Michael J. Meaney, Anne Rifkin-Graboi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


OBJECTIVE: Maternal anxiety is a well-known risk factor for early childhood behavior problems. In this study, we explore (1) whether parenting stress mediates this relation and also (2) whether child factors, namely self-regulation, modify the influence of maternal well-being on child externalizing and internalizing problems at 4 years of age. METHOD: Mothers taking part in the Growing Up in Singapore Towards Healthy Outcomes cohort completed the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory when their children were 24 months of age. At 42 months of age, children performed a self-regulation task (n = 391), and mothers completed the Parenting Stress Index. When children were 48 months old, both parents completed the Child Behavior Checklist. RESULTS: As predicted, parenting stress mediated the relation between maternal trait anxiety and child externalizing and internalizing problems. This mediating effect was further moderated by child self-regulation. The indirect effect of maternal trait anxiety through parenting stress on child externalizing problems was stronger among children with low self-regulation. CONCLUSION: Parenting stress is an additional pathway connecting maternal trait anxiety and children's externalizing and internalizing behavior problems. The risk for child externalizing problems conveyed by elevated maternal trait anxiety and parenting stress may be buffered by better self-regulation in 4-year-olds. These results suggest that interventions that include decreasing parenting stress and enhancing child self-regulation may be important to limiting the transgenerational impact of maternal trait anxiety.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)696-705
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of developmental and behavioral pediatrics : JDBP
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019

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