When is Parental Suppression of Black Children’s Negative Emotions Adaptive? The Role of Preparation for Racial Bias and Children’s Resting Cardiac Vagal Tone
Gepubliceerd in: Research on Child and Adolescent Psychopathology | Uitgave 2/2022Log in om toegang te krijgen
Research demonstrates that Black parents attempt to suppress children’s expressions of negative emotions (e.g., anger, fear), in part, to protect them from experiencing racial bias from authority figures. The goal of this study was to examine whether the effectiveness of parental suppression strategies in reducing behavior problems depends on whether parents talk to children about the potential of experiencing racism (i.e., preparation for bias) and children’s resting cardiac vagal tone as indexed by baseline respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA). Ninety-four parents (97% mothers) who identified their child as Black (56% girls) completed questionnaires about their punitive and minimizing responses to their child's negative emotions and their child's internalizing and externalizing problems at ages 5 and 6. Children's baseline RSA was assessed at age 5. Results indicated that parents' suppression of children's negative emotions predicted decreased externalizing behaviors (e.g., acting out) only when parents talked to their children about racism. When parents did not contextualize their restrictions on children’s emotional expressions with discussions about race, children with higher baseline RSA demonstrated increased externalizing behaviors, whereas those with lower baseline RSA were unaffected. Parental suppression strategies led to increased internalizing symptoms (e.g., anxiety, withdrawal) among children with higher baseline RSA regardless of whether parents discussed racism. Black parents face a conundrum in which suppressing their children’s negative emotions, in hopes of subverting racism, may reduce their children's externalizing problems under some circumstances, but may increase the risk of their children developing internalizing problems. Implications for systemic policy change to combat racism are discussed.