Functional Somatic Symptoms and Emotion Regulation in Children and Adolescents
Background: Functional Somatic Symptoms (FSS; i.e. symptoms without sufficient organic explanation) often begin in childhood and adolescence and are common to this developmental period. Emotion regulation and parental factors seem to play a relevant role in the development and maintenance of FSS. So far, little systematic research has been conducted in childhood and adolescence on the importance of specific emotion regulation strategies and their links with parental factors.
Method: In two studies, children and adolescents (Study 1/Study 2: N = 46/68; 65%/60% female, Age M = 10.0/13.1) and their parents completed questionnaires on children's FSS and adaptive and maladaptive emotional regulation (in Study 2, additionally parental somatization and child/parental alexithymia).
Results: In both studies, child-reported FSS were negatively associated with children's adaptive emotion regulation (r = -.34/-.31, p < .03; especially acceptance) and positively with children's maladaptive emotion regulation and alexithymia (r = .53/.46, p < .001). Moreover, children’s maladaptive emotion regulation (β = .34, p = .02) explained incremental variance in child-reported FSS beyond children’s age/sex, parental somatization and emotion regulation. In contrast, parental somatization was the only significant predictor (β = .44, p < .001) of parent-reported FSS in children/adolescents.
Conclusion: Our results suggest that particularly rumination and alexithymia and parental somatization are important predictors of FSS in children/adolescents. Overall, the results showed a dependence on the person reporting children's FSS (i.e., method-variance). So, for future studies it is relevant to continue using the multi-informant approach.