Mothering, fathering, and the regulation of negative and positive emotions in high-functioning preschoolers with autism spectrum disorder

Yael Hirschler-Guttenberg, Ofer Golan, Sharon Ostfeld-Etzion, Ruth Feldman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


Background Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) exhibit difficulties in regulating emotions and authors have called to study the specific processes underpinning emotion regulation (ER) in ASD. Yet, little observational research examined the strategies preschoolers with ASD use to regulate negative and positive emotions in the presence of their mothers and fathers. Methods Forty preschoolers with ASD and 40 matched typically developing children and their mothers and fathers participated. Families were visited twice for identical battery of paradigms with mother or father. Parent-child interactions were coded for parent and child behaviors and children engaged in ER paradigms eliciting negative (fear) and positive (joy) emotions with each parent. ER paradigms were microcoded for negative and positive emotionality, ER strategies, and parent regulation facilitation. Results During free play, mothers' and fathers' sensitivity and warm discipline were comparable across groups; however, children with ASD displayed lower positive engagement and higher withdrawal. During ER paradigms, children with ASD expressed less positive emotionality overall and more negative emotionality during fear with father. Children with ASD used more simple self-regulatory strategies, particularly during fear, but expressed comparable levels of assistance seeking behavior toward mother and father in negative and positive contexts. Parents of children with ASD used less complex regulation facilitation strategies, including cognitive reappraisal and emotional reframing, and employed simple tactics, such as physical comforting to manage fear and social gaze to maintain joy. Conclusion Findings describe general and parent- and emotion-specific processes of child ER and parent regulation facilitation in preschoolers with ASD. Results underscore the ability of such children to seek parental assistance during moments of high arousal and the parents' sensitive adaptation to their children's needs. Reduced positive emotionality, rather than increased negative reactivity and self-regulatory efforts, emerges as the consistent element associated with ER processes in this group.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)530-539
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 May 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health.


  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • emotion regulation
  • emotional reactivity
  • fathering
  • mothering


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