The Effect of Developmental Status and Parental Acceptance of Emotion on Parenting Stress

Friday, May 16, 2014
Atrium Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Atlanta)
H. N. Davis1, B. J. Wilson1, J. Berg1, T. Estrada1, J. Sparrow1 and M. L. Zavertnik2, (1)Clinical Psychology, Seattle Pacific University, Seattle, WA, (2)Seattle Pacific University, Seattle, WA

Parents of children with ASD report more parenting stress than the general population (Steijn, Oerlemans, Aken, Buitelaar, & Rommelse, 2013).  Furthermore, researchers have found parents exhibit more stress when parenting children with ASD than with typically developing (TD) children (Steijn et al., 2013; Hoffman, Sweeney, Hodge, Lopez-Wagner, & Looney, 2009).  Research suggests parental acceptance and wellbeing are associated.  Weiss and colleagues (2012) found parental acceptance of difficult cognitions and feelings surrounding parent-child relationships mediated the relation between child problem behaviors and parent mental health.  Acceptance of factors relating to caregiving may be an important variable in reducing risk for elevated stress and mental health concerns in parents of children with ASD.


The purpose of our study was to examine the influence of parental acceptance of emotion on parenting stress in parents of children with ASD and TD children.  Parents with high acceptance of emotion appear comfortable with their child’s emotion, empathize, and participate in the child’s emotional experience without punishing or dismissing (Gottman, 1996).  We hypothesized acceptance of emotion would buffer against elevated levels of stress common in parents of children with ASD.


Our preliminary sample included 61 children ages 3:1 to 6:11 and their parents.  Forty-two children (45.2% female) were TD; 19 children had a diagnosis of ASD (21% female). The study utilized a case-control format and measured children’s verbal abilities using the Differential Ability Scales II(DAS-II; Elliot, 2007).  Parental acceptance of sadness, anger and fear were coded from audiotaped responses to the Meta-Emotion Interview (MEI; Katz & Gottman, 1986).  Additionally, parents completed the Parenting Events Questionnaire (Crnic & Greenberg, 1990) measuring parenting stress frequency and intensity.


A hierarchical regression analysis examined the influence of developmental status and acceptance of emotion on parenting stress. Child verbal ability, developmental status, and parental acceptance of emotion were entered in the first step and predicted significant variance, R2 = .20, F(3, 57) = 4.81, p = <.01.  An interaction term of developmental status and parental acceptance of emotion was entered in the second step.  Significance of the interaction term was trending, F(1, 56) = 3.52, p= .066. Parents of children with ASD who reported high acceptance of emotion also reported significantly lower parenting stress than parents of children with ASD who reported lower acceptance of emotion.  Parents of TD children had similar levels of parenting stress regardless of acceptance level. To increase the power of our analysis, we will continue data collection. 


Findings indicate acceptance of emotion is associated with lower parenting stress in parents of children with ASD.  Greater acceptance may buffer against stress and discomfort experienced while caring for children with dysregulated emotions and behavior.  Parental acceptance of emotion may be an important area for future interventions targeting stress and psychological wellbeing in caregivers of children with ASD.  We plan to report data on a larger sample and hope to replicate our findings.