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Longitudinal associations between mother–child conflict and child internalizing problems in mid-childhood

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 September 2020

Jessica P. Lougheed*
Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia Okanagan, Kelowna, BC, Canada Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA
Robert J. Duncan
Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA Department of Public Health, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA
Gizem Keskin
Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA
Kristine Marceau
Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA
Author for Correspondence: Jessica P. Lougheed, Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia Okanagan, 3187 University Way, Kelowna, BC, CanadaV1V 1V7; E-mail:


Several aspects of mother–child relationships are associated with children's internalizing problems. We examined longitudinal associations between mother–child conflict and children's internalizing problems in middle childhood. Specifically, we examined whether conflict and children's internalizing problems predict each other longitudinally in a sample of children from 3rd through 6th grade (N = 1,364) and their mothers using a cross-lagged panel model with random intercepts. In line with expectations, we found stable between-family differences in both mother–child conflict and children's internalizing problems. Contrary to expectations, we did not find that mother–child conflict and children's internalizing problems showed significant cross-lagged associations. However, mother–child conflict and children's internalizing problems had correlated errors at each wave, indicating that these two constructs covary with each other concurrently at multiple times across development, independent of stable between-family associations (i.e., as one increases, so does the other, and vice versa). The results of this study point to the importance of using statistical approaches that can disentangle between-family differences from within-family processes. In future studies, shorter time scales (e.g., weeks or months) may better capture dynamic associations between parent–child conflict and internalizing problems.

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© The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press

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