Maternal Emotion Socialization of Adolescent Girls Engaging in Non-Suicidal Self-Injury

Helen V. White, Thanharat Silamongkol, Andrea Wiglesworth, Madelyn H. Labella, Emersyn R. Goetz, Kathryn R. Cullen, Bonnie Klimes-Dougan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Non-suicidal self injury (NSSI) is a transdiagnostic maladaptive behavior that is highly prevalent in adolescence. A greater understanding of the mechanisms leading to NSSI is needed to guide the development of prevention efforts. The current study examined the relationship between maternal socialization of emotions and NSSI behaviors in their children. Female adolescents (N = 90, 12–17 years old) who demonstrated a range of NSSI lifetime episodes from none to very frequent were included in this sample. Maternal responses to their children’s displays of sadness, anger, and happiness were assessed. Principal components analysis was used to categorize items into supportive and unsupportive maternal emotion socialization responses for the three emotions. Adolescents whose mothers reported less supportive maternal responses to child’s expressions of sadness and anger had more lifetime NSSI episodes. Many of these patterns remained when follow-up analyses considered an extreme group approach (e.g., high counts of NSSI versus no NSSI), when analyses focused on specific diagnostic subgroups (e.g., depression and anxiety), and to some extent (socialization of anger) when current NSSI was considered. While the cross-sectional study design prevents causal conclusions, transactional theories raise the possibility that mothers’ emotion socialization may impact offspring NSSI and offspring engagement in NSSI may result in mothers altering their socialization practices to accommodate their child’s unique needs. Future research should employ longitudinal methodology to examine the time course, consider the role of emotion regulation as an explanatory mechanism, and consider intervention methods that may teach effective emotion socialization for parents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)683-695
Number of pages13
JournalResearch on Child and Adolescent Psychopathology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank the youth participants and their families for the?many hours they contributed to this work. Additionally, we thank the members of the Research?on Adolescent Depression Lab Funding was provided by the National?Institutes of Mental Health. The larger project is titled: A Longitudinal Study Examining Three?RDoC Constructs in Adolescents with Non-Suicidal Self-Injury. Project?number: R01MH107394-01;

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC part of Springer Nature.


  • Adolescence
  • Emotion socialization
  • Non-suicidal self injury
  • Parenting
  • Self-harm
  • Transdiagnostic

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural


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