Marital conflict and aggression, children’s aggressive schemas, and child maladjustment: An investigation with clinic-referred familiesedit
Various dimensions of marital conflict have been shown to be negatively associated with child functioning. The present study was conducted as an effort to assess the degree to which there is correspondence across different family members’ reports of marital conflict and to increase understanding of the associations between interparental conflict and aggression, children’s aggressive schemas, and child maladjustment in a clinically-referred sample. Thirty-eight children (ages 7 to 13) seeking psychological treatment/evaluation services for behavioral and emotional problems at local mental health clinics were recruited to participate, along with their parents. Mothers, fathers, and children reported on overt interparental conflict, interparental verbal and physical aggression, children’s interpersonal problem-solving strategies and beliefs about aggression, and children’s internalizing and externalizing behaviors. Results indicated a significant degree of correspondence across different family members’ reports of various dimensions of marital conflict. Significant positive associations were found between various aspects of interparental conflict (as reported by parents and children) and children’s internalizing and externalizing problems. Children’s perception of threat during interparental conflict was significantly associated with less accepting beliefs about the legitimacy of aggression, particularly among older children. Children’s perception of interparental conflict as poorly resolved was significantly associated with the endorsement of aggressive problem-solving strategies, particularly for those children whose mothers reported instances of physical or verbal interparental aggression within the past year. Contrary to expectations, parents’ reports of negative conflict characteristics were not significant predictors of children’s aggressive schemas. The strengths and limitations of the current investigation are discussed, along with the implications of these findings for future research and for clinical interventions with children and their families.