Parental guilt and children's internalizing and externalizing behavior: The moderating role of parental reflective functioning

Ido Shalev, Noga Sharon, Florina Uzefovsky, Naama Atzaba-Poria

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The immense responsibility inherent in parenthood makes feeling guilty highly prevalent among parents. Such feelings are natural, yet excessive guilt is related to depression and anxiety and could burden parents. Qualitative research suggested that guilt is predominant in parents whose children suffer from behavioral and emotional difficulties, making it necessary to quantify guilt and examine possible resilience factors that could alleviate the aversive aspects of it. In this study, we examined the association between children's externalizing and internalizing problems and different aspects of parental guilt, assessing whether parental reflective functioning (PRF) would moderate these associations. One hundred six parents of children aged 1.30-9.30 years were recruited from child daycare centers and community clinics. The Parent Development Interview was administered to measure PRF. Based on this interview, we created a new coding system, to quantify three aspects of parental guilt: intensity, reparation, and internal reaction to guilt. Children's difficulties as well as parents' depression and anxiety were assessed using validated self-report measures. We showed that children's difficulties were related to parental guilt, but only when levels of PRF were not high. Specifically, internalizing problems were related to greater intensity and negative internal reaction to guilt only when PRF was low or moderate, and externalizing problems were related to greater intensity of guilt only when PRF levels were low. These findings suggest that encouraging reflective functioning could reduce the burden of guilt. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2023 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1241-1252
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of family psychology : JFP : journal of the Division of Family Psychology of the American Psychological Association (Division 43)
Issue number8
StatePublished - Dec 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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