The Relationship Between Emotional Regulation, Language Skills, and Internalising and Externalising Difficulties in Adolescence

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Jessica Butcher
Submitted: June 2015


Internalising and externalising difficulties are associated with negative outcomes for young people, such as school refusal, school exclusion, educational underachievement, and mental health problems in adulthood. It is therefore important to find ways to support young people with such difficulties. Difficulties in emotional regulation (ER) and language difficulties are reported to be associated with internalising and externalising difficulties in children and young people. However, there has only been a limited amount of research in this area and previous studies were subject to methodological limitations. This thesis had two aims: firstly, to explore the associations between ER strategies and adolescent mental health problems. This issue was examined in a systematic literature review which found that ER strategies were related to internalising and externalising difficulties in adolescents. However, the review highlighted the lack of research in this area, particularly in relation to externalising difficulties. Secondly, the empirical study described in this thesis explored the role of ER strategies and expressive language skills in young people and their associations with internalising and externalising difficulties. Fifty-five participants completed a range of measures exploring their expressive language abilities, use of ER strategies, and an experimental frustration task examining emotional reactivity, recovery and intensity. It was found that the language measures were not associated with internalising or externalising difficulties. However, there was a tentative suggestion that functional language skills may increase adaptive ER strategies and reduce non-adaptive ER strategies. Internalising difficulties were strongly associated with non-adaptive cognitive ER strategies following stress, whereas externalising difficulties were strongly associated with fewer adaptive ER strategies. Emotional intensity during frustration was related to both internalising and externalising difficulties. Conclusions and implications for educational practice are discussed.

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