A biopsychosocial approach to emotion-related parenting: Physiological responses to child frustration among urban Chinese parents

Xutong Zhang, Zhuo Rachel Han, Lisa M. Gatzke-Kopp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Research on predictors of emotion-related parenting has predominantly focused on parents' social cognitions including parenting goals and beliefs about emotions. Less is known about parents' regulation of their own arousal when facing children's negative emotions, and how it relates to parents' ability to engage in sensitive and supportive behaviors. Taking a biopsychosocial approach, the current study focused on parents' psychophysiological responses when viewing their children experience frustration among 150 urban Chinese families (children were 6-12 years, Mage = 8.54, SD = 1.67), and examined how these responses were associated with emotion-related parenting. The primary caregiver of each family (121 mothers and 29 fathers) participated in the study with the child. Measures of sympathetic [skin conductance level (SCL)] and parasympathetic [respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA)] activity were collected from parents during resting baseline and a child frustration task. Parents self-reported their tendency to react supportively and unsupportively to children's displays of negative emotions. Their general availability to children's emotional needs was observed during a separate interactive task. Results suggested that parents who showed greater sympathetic arousal during the child frustration task reported less supportive and more unsupportive reactions to children's negative emotions in daily life, and also tended to be emotionally unavailable during the interactive task. No main effect was found for RSA reactivity, and there was no significant interaction between SCL and RSA reactivity in predicting parenting. Findings highlight the importance of considering parents' physiological regulatory functioning as a proximal factor shaping parenting behaviors directed toward children's emotions. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)639-648
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of family psychology : JFP : journal of the Division of Family Psychology of the American Psychological Association (Division 43)
Issue number5
StatePublished - Aug 1 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


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