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Coercive parenting mediates the relationship between military fathers’ emotion regulation and children’s adjustment

APA Citation:

Zhang, J., Palmer, A., Zhang, N., & Gewirtz, A. H. (2020). Coercive parenting mediates the relationship between military fathers’ emotion regulation and children’s adjustment. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 48, 633–645. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-020-00625-8

Abstract Created by REACH:

Research has demonstrated that parents’ emotional experiences can influence their parenting strategies, which may, in turn, affect children’s well-being. Military parents may have difficulty regulating their emotions if they have experienced deployment-related military stressors (e.g., posttraumatic stress disorder). This study examined the longitudinal associations between deployed fathers’ emotion regulation and their children’s well-being (i.e., internalizing and externalizing behaviors reported by parents and depressive symptoms reported by children) in a sample of 181 National Guard/Reserve families. Additionally, coercive parenting behaviors (e.g., irritability, bossiness, persistent negativity) were examined as a mediator of the association between emotion regulation and child well-being. The findings suggest that fathers who experience challenges regulating their own emotions tend to engage in more coercive parenting, which in turn has long-term implications for children’s well-being.


Mental health

Subject Affiliation:

Active duty service member
Guard/Reserve member
Military families
Spouse of service member or veteran


Childhood (birth - 12 yrs)
School age (6 - 12 yrs)
Adolescence (13 - 17 yrs)
Adulthood (18 yrs & older)
Young adulthood (18 - 29 yrs)
Thirties (30 - 39 yrs)
Middle age (40 - 64 yrs)


Longitudinal Study
Quantitative Study
Secondary Analysis


Zhang, Jingchen, Palmer, Alyssa, Zhang, Na, Gewirtz, Abigail H.


Military parents’ combat-related posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms have been linked to poor parenting and child maladjustment. Emotion regulation (ER) difficulties are thought to underlie PTSD symptoms, and research has begun to link parental ER to parenting behaviors. Little empirical evidence exists regarding whether fathers’ ER is associated with child adjustment and what may be the underlying mechanism for this association. This study investigated whether deployed fathers’ ER was associated with child emotional and behavioral problems, and whether the associations were mediated by coercive parenting behaviors. The sample consisted of 181 deployed fathers with non-deployed female partners and their 4- to 13-year-old children. Families were assessed at three time points over 2 years. ER was measured using a latent construct of fathers’ self-reports of their experiential avoidance, trait mindfulness, and difficulties in emotion regulation. Coercive parenting was observed via a series of home-based family interaction tasks. Child behaviors were assessed through parent- and child-report. Structural equation modeling revealed that fathers with poorer ER at baseline exhibited higher coercive parenting at 1-year follow-up, which was associated with more emotional and behavioral problems in children at 2-year follow-up. The indirect effect of coercive parenting was statistically significant. These findings suggest that fathers’ difficulties in ER may impede their effective parenting behaviors, and children’s adjustment problems might be amplified as a result of coercive interactions. Implications for the role of paternal ER on parenting interventions are discussed.

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Publication Type:


Author Affiliation:

Department of Family Social Science, University of Minnesota–Twin Cities, JZ
Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota–Twin Cities, AP
REACH Institute, Department of Psychology, Arizona State University, NZ
Department of Family Social Science and Institute of Child Development & Institute of Translational Research in Children’s Mental Health, University of Minnesota–Twin Cities, AHG


parenting coercion, emotion regulation, military fathers, internalizing behavior problems, externalizing behavior problems

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Research Summary


The ADAPT study was funded by grants from NIDA R01 DA030114 to Abigail H. Gewirtz and R21 DA034166 to James Snyder. This research was supported by a predoctoral fellowship from the National Institute of Health (T32 MH015755) to the second author. The third author’s work on this paper was supported by a National Research Service Award (NRSA) in Primary Prevention by the National Institute on Drug Abuse T32DA039772-03 (PI: Laurie Chassin) through the Department of Psychology at Arizona State University. The authors wish to acknowledge the contributions of the late James Snyder to this study, who developed the coding scheme and pioneered the conceptualization and measurement of family interactions.

REACH Newsletter:

  July 2020

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