Child Behavioral Dysregulation as a Mediator between Destructive Marital Conflict and Children’s Symptoms of Psychopathology
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Parents’ frequent destructive conflicts may lead children to respond to these disputes in maladaptive ways and these distressing and maladaptive responses, in turn, may lead to psychopathology in children. Child behavioral dysregulation was examined as a mediator between marital conflict and child internalizing and externalizing symptoms as well as parents’ future conflicts in a sample of 235 children and their parents. Parents reported on study variables over three annual measurement occasions beginning when their children were 6 years old and autoregressive controls were included for destructive marital conflict and initial levels of children’s symptoms of psychopathology. Results based on structural equation modeling showed that behavioral dysregulation mediated the relationship between destructive marital conflict and children’s internalizing and externalizing symptoms. In addition, children’s behavioral dysregulation mediated the relationship between parents’ initial levels of destructive conflict and their later conflicts, indicating that children’s responses did not serve to reduce parents’ future conflicts, but were in fact related to an increase in destructive disputes over time. Findings of the current study suggest that children’s behavioral dysregulation is a maladaptive response to marital conflict, associated with risk for children’s development of internalizing and externalizing symptoms and heightened destructive marital conflict. Discussion makes suggestions for future research regarding children’s responses to marital conflict.
KeywordsMarital conflict Behavioral dysregulation Internalizing Externalizing Psychopathology
This research was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (R01 MH57318) awarded to Patrick T. Davies and E. Mark Cummings. We are grateful to the children and parents who participated in this project. We express our appreciation to project staff, graduate students, and undergraduates at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Rochester who worked on this project.
K.A.W. designed the current study using E.M.C. and P.T.D.’s existing longitudinal dataset, analyzed results, and wrote the paper. E.M.C. and P.T.D. designed and executed the larger longitudinal study and collaborated in the writing and editing of the final manuscript.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study. In addition, all study procedures received approval from both the University of Rochester and the University of Notre Dame’s respective Institutional Review Boards prior to collecting data. The manuscript does not contain clinical studies or patient data.
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