Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 24, Issue 3, pp 591–607 | Cite as

Longitudinal Influence of Paternal Distress on Children’s Representations of Fathers, Family Cohesion, and Family Conflict

  • Yeon Soo Yoo
  • Kari L. Adamsons
  • JoAnn L. Robinson
  • Ronald M. Sabatelli
Original Paper


A parent’s distress is known to color children’s experiences of their families. Studies, however, have rarely focused on the levels of distress experienced by fathers, and in particular, as they affect the emotional experiences of their children. We examine the impact that fathers’ experience of distress throughout their children’s early years has on children’s emerging narrative representations of father-child relationships and of family conflict and cohesion. In this longitudinal investigation, fathers of young children reported their distress on two occasions in relation to self, the marital relationship, and the family climate. Fathers also concurrently reported on their children’s temperament, specifically negative emotionality. Children responded to story stem beginnings about challenging situations in the family and their narratives were scored for dysregulated negative-disciplinary and positive parental behaviors of fathers, family conflict themes, and family harmony themes. It was hypothesized that children of more distressed fathers would represent greater dysregulated fathering and higher levels of family conflict, and lower levels of positive fathering and family harmony than children of less distressed fathers. Further, the study examined whether this effect was mediated through the fathers’ reports of their children’s negative emotionality. Results partially supported the hypothesized direct and indirect effects. Children’s narratives of negative-disciplinary fathering and family conflict were more common in boys when fathers reported greater distress, and temperament ratings fully mediated this effect. However, their narratives of positive fathering and family harmony were not significantly affected. That positive family features were preserved in children’s narratives even in the face of greater father distress suggests that families may be able to build resilience to internalized distress through these positive narrative features.


Paternal distress Temperament Child narratives Longitudinal Structural equation modeling 



This work was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the National Institute for Mental Health grants HD010333 and HD050346.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yeon Soo Yoo
    • 1
  • Kari L. Adamsons
    • 1
  • JoAnn L. Robinson
    • 1
  • Ronald M. Sabatelli
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Human Development and Family StudiesUniversity of ConnecticutStorrsUSA

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