Maternal stress and internalizing symptoms in preschoolers: the moderating role of narrative coherence.

Research paper by Stephanie S Stadelmann, Yvonne Y Otto, Anna A Andreas, Kai K von Klitzing, Annette Maria AM Klein

Indexed on: 03 Feb '15Published on: 03 Feb '15Published in: Journal of family psychology : JFP : journal of the Division of Family Psychology of the American Psychological Association (Division 43)


In the present study, we examined whether maternal psychosocial stress and children's coherence in story-stem narratives are associated with preschool children's internalizing symptoms and disorders, and whether narrative coherence moderates the association between maternal stress and children's internalizing symptoms and disorders. The sample consists of 236 preschool children (129 girls, 107 boys; Mage = 5.15 years) and their mothers. Mothers completed questionnaires on their psychosocial stress burden and on child symptoms. A diagnostic interview (the Preschool Age Psychiatric Assessment; Egger & Angold, 2004) was conducted with one of the parents to assess children's psychiatric diagnoses. Children completed 8 story stems of the MacArthur Story Stem Battery (Bretherton & Oppenheim, 2003). Story-stem narratives were coded for narrative coherence. Multivariate analyses were controlled for children's age, gender, verbal performance, and externalizing symptoms. Results showed that maternal psychosocial stress was significantly associated with child internalizing symptoms and disorders. Neither maternal stress nor children's internalizing symptoms or disorders were associated with narrative coherence. However, narrative coherence moderated the association between maternal stress and child internalizing symptoms. For children with more incoherent narratives, the association between maternal psychosocial stress and children's internalizing symptoms was significantly stronger than for children with more coherent narratives. The moderation effect of narrative coherence concerning children's internalizing disorders was found not to be significant. Our findings indicate that preschool children's cognitive-emotional organization in dealing with relational conflict themes seems to buffer their mental health when exposed to adverse circumstances in their everyday family life.