Skip to main content Accessibility help

Early trajectories of interparental conflict and externalizing problems as predictors of social competence in preadolescence

  • Chrystyna D. Kouros (a1), E. Mark Cummings (a2) and Patrick T. Davies (a3)

Consistent with developmental cascade notions, the present study investigated (a) associations between trajectories of interparental conflict and early externalizing problems during childhood and (b) early trajectories of externalizing problems as a pathway by which interparental conflict impacts children's social competence in preadolescence. Participants were 235 children and their parents and teachers. Children were assessed annually for 3 years, beginning when they were in kindergarten. Parents provided reports of interparental conflict and child externalizing problems. Children's social competence (prosocial behavior, social problems) was assessed approximately 5 years later via parent and teacher reports. Results from parallel process models indicated that changes in interparental conflict were positively associated with changes in externalizing problems during childhood. Further, demonstrating pathways consistent with notions of developmental cascades, early trajectories of externalizing problems accounted for the longitudinal link between early trajectories of interparental conflict and children's social problems in preadolescence.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Chrystyna D. Kouros, Department of Psychology and Human Development, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN; E-mail:
Hide All
Achenbach, T. M. (1991). Manual for the Child Behavior Checklist: 4–18 and 1991 profile. Burlington, VT: University of Vermont, Department of Psychiatry.
Arbuckle, J. L. (2008). AMOS 17.0 user's guide. Chicago: SmallWaters Corporation.
Benson, M. J., Buehler, C., & Gerard, J. M. (2008). Interparental hostility and early adolescent problem behavior: Spillover via maternal acceptance, harshness, inconsistency, and intrusiveness. Journal of Early Adolescence, 28, 428454.
Bollen, K. A., & Curran, P. J. (2006). Latent curves models: A structural equation perspective. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Bongers, I. L., Koot, H. M., van der Ende, J., & Verhulst, F. C. (2008). Predicting young adult social functioning from developmental trajectories of externalizing behaviour. Psychological Medicine, 38, 989999.
Buehler, C., Lange, G., & Franck, K. L. (2007). Adolescents' cognitive and emotional responses to marital hostility. Child Development, 78, 775789.
Burt, K. B., Obradović, J., Long, J. D., & Masten, A. S. (2008). The interplay of social competence and psychopathology over 20 years: Testing transactional and cascade models. Child Development, 79, 359374.
Calkins, S. D., Gill, K., & Williford, A. (1999). Externalizing problems in two-year olds: Implications for patterns of social behavior and peers' responses to aggression. Early Education and Development, 10, 267288.
Campbell, S. B. (1994). Hard-to-manage preschool boys: Externalizing behavior, social competence, and family context at two-year followup. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 22, 147166.
Campbell, S. B. (2002). Behavior problems in preschool children: Clinical and developmental issues (2nd ed.).New York: Guilford Press.
Capaldi, D. M., & Stoolmiller, M. (1999). Co-occurrence of conduct problems and depressive symptoms in early adolescent boys: III. Predictions to young-adult adjustment. Development and Psychopathology, 11, 5984.
Cheong, J., MacKinnon, D. P., & Khoo, S. T. (2003). Investigation of mediating processes using parallel process latent growth curve modeling. Structural Equation Modeling, 10, 238262.
Cicchetti, D., & Cohen, D. J. (1995). Perspectives on developmental psychopathology. In Cicchetti, D. & Cohen, D. J. (Eds.), Developmental psychopathology: Vol. 1. Theory and methods (pp. 320). New York: Wiley.
Coie, J. D., Bedling, M., & Underwood, M. (1988). Aggression and peer rejection in childhood. In Lahey, B. B. & Kazdin, A. E. (Eds.), Advances in clinical child psychology (Vol. 2, pp. 125158). New York: Plenum Press.
Coie, J. D., Dodge, K. A., & Kupersmidt, J. B. (1990). Peer group behavior and social status. In Asher, S. R. & Coie, J. D. (Eds.), Peer rejection in childhood: Cambridge studies in social and emotional development (pp. 1759). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Coie, J. D., Lochman, J. E., Terry, R., & Hyman, C. (1992). Predicting early adolescent disorder from childhood aggression and peer rejection. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 60, 783792.
Colom, R., Escorial, S., Shih, P. C., & Privado, J. (2007). Fluid intelligence, memory span, and temperament difficulties predict academic performance of young adolescents. Personality and Individual Differences, 42, 15031514.
Cui, M., Conger, R. D., & Lorenz, F. O. (2005). Predicting change in adolescent adjustment from change in marital problems. Developmental Psychology, 41, 812823.
Cummings, E. M., Davies, P. T., & Campbell, S. B. (2000). Developmental psychopathology and family process: Theory, research, and clinical implications. New York: Guilford Press.
Cummings, E. M., Goeke-Morey, M. C., & Papp, L. M. (2004). Everyday marital conflict and child aggression. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 32, 191202.
Cummings, E. M., Iannotti, R. J., & Zahn-Waxler, C. (1985). Influence of conflict between adults on the emotions and aggression of young children. Developmental Psychology, 21, 495507.
Cummings, E. M., Schermerhorn, A. C., Davies, P. T., Goeke-Morey, M. C., & Cummings, J. S. (2006). Interparental discord and child adjustment: Prospective investigations of emotional security as an explanatory mechanism. Child Development, 77, 132152.
Cummings, E. M., Zahn-Waxler, C., & Radke-Yarrow, M. (1981). Young children's responses to expressions of anger and affection by others in the family. Child Development, 52, 12741282.
Davies, P. T., & Lindsay, L. L. (2001). Does gender moderate the effects of marital conflict on children? In Grych, J. & Fincham, F. (Eds.), Child development and interparental conflict (pp. 6497). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Davies, P. T., & Lindsay, L. L. (2004). Interparental conflict and adolescent adjustment: Why does gender moderate early adolescent vulnerability? Journal of Family Psychology, 18, 160170.
Davies, P. T., & Windle, M. (1997). Gender-specific pathways between maternal depressive symptoms, family discord, and adolescent adjustment. Developmental Psychology, 33, 657668.
Denham, S. A., & Holt, R. W. (1993). Preschoolers' likeability as cause or consequence of their social behavior. Developmental Psychology, 29, 271275.
Dishion, T. J. (2000). Cross-setting consistency in early adolescent psychopathology: Deviant friendships and problem behavior sequelae. Journal of Personality, 68, 11091126.
Domsh, H., Lohaus, A., & Thomas, H. (2009). Prediction of childhood cognitive abilities from a set of early indicators of information processing capabilities. Infant Behavior and Development, 32, 91102.
Eiden, R. D., Colder, C., Edwards, E. P., & Leonard, K. E. (2009). A longitudinal study of social competence among children of alcoholic and nonalcoholic parents: Role of parental psychopathology, parental warmth, and self-regulation. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 23, 3646.
Eisenberg, N., Fabes, R. A., Murphy, B. C., Shepard, S., Guthrie, I. K., Mazsk, P., et al. (1999). Prediction of elementary school children's socially appropriate and problem behavior from anger reactions at age 4–6 years. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 20, 119142.
El-Sheikh, M., Cummings, E. M., Kouros, C. D., Elmore-Staton, L., & Buckhalt, J. (2008). Marital psychological and physical aggression and children's mental and physical health: Direct, mediated, and moderated effects. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 76, 138148.
El-Sheikh, M., Kouros, C. D., Erath, S., Cummings, E. M., Keller, P., & Staton, L. (2009). Marital conflict and children's externalizing behavior: Interactions between parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system activity. Monographs for the Society for Research in Child Development, 7(1, Serial No. 292).
El-Sheikh, M., & Whitson, S. A. (2006). Longitudinal relations between marital conflict and child adjustment: Vagal regulation as a protective factor. Journal of Family Psychology, 20, 3039.
Fincham, F. D., Grych, J. H., & Osborne, L. N. (1994). Does marital conflict cause child maladjustment? Directions and challenges for longitudinal research. Journal of Family Psychology, 8, 128140.
Flora, D. B., Khoo, S. T., & Chassin, L. (2007). Moderating effects of a risk factor: Modeling longitudinal moderated mediation in the development of adolescent heavy drinking. In Little, T. D., Bovaird, J. A., & Card, N. A. (Eds.), Modeling contextual effects in longitudinal studies (pp. 231254). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Franck, K. L., & Buehler, C. (2007). A family process model of marital hostility, parental depressive affect, and early adolescent problem behavior: The roles of triangulation and parental warmth. Journal of Family Psychology, 21, 614625.
Gerard, J. M., Krishnakumar, A., & Buehler, C. (2006). Marital conflict, parent–child relations, and youth maladjustment: A longitudinal investigation of spillover effects. Journal of Family Issues, 27, 951975.
Goodman, R. (1997). The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire: A research note. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 38, 581586.
Goodman, S. H., Barfoot, B., Frye, A. A., & Belli, A. M. (1999). Dimensions of marital conflict and children's social problem-solving skills. Journal of Family Psychology, 13, 3345.
Gregory, T., Nettlebeck, T., Howard, S., & Wilson, C. (2009). A test of the cascade model in the elderly. Personality and Individual Differences, 46, 7173.
Grych, J. H., Harold, G. T., & Miles, C. J. (2003). A prospective investigation of appraisals as mediators of the link between interparental conflict and child adjustment. Child Development, 74, 11761193.
Harold, G. T., & Conger, R. D. (1997). Marital conflict and adolescent distress: The role of adolescent awareness. Child Development, 68, 333350.
Jouriles, E., Murphy, C., Farris, A., Smith, D., Richters, J., & Waters, D. (1991). Marital adjustment, parental disagreements about child rearing, and behavioral problems in boys: Increasing the specificity of marital assessment. Child Development, 62, 14241433.
Jouriles, E. N., Pfiffner, L. J., & O'Leary, S. G. (1988). Marital conflict, parenting, and toddler conduct problems. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 16, 197206.
Keane, S. P., & Calkins, S. D. (2004). Predicting kindergarten peer social status from toddler and preschool problem behavior. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 32, 409423.
Keller, P. S., Cummings, E. M., Davies, P. T., & Mitchell, P. M. (2008). Longitudinal relations between parental drinking problems, family functioning, and child adjustment. Development and Psychopathology, 20, 195212.
Kerig, P. K. (1996). Assessing the links between interparental conflict and adjustment: The conflict and problems-solving scales. Journal of Family Psychology, 10, 454473.
Kouros, C. D., Merrilees, C. E., & Cummings, E. M. (2008). Marital conflict and children's emotional security in the context of parental depression. Journal of Marriage and Family, 70, 684697.
Kouros, C. D., Papp, L. M. & Cummings, E. M. (2008). Interrelations and moderators of longitudinal links between marital satisfaction and depressive symptoms among couples in established relationships. Journal of Family Psychology, 22, 667677.
Kurdek, L. A. (1999). The nature and predictors of the trajectory of change in marital quality for husbands and wives over the first 10 years of marriage. Developmental Psychology, 35, 12831296.
Ladd, G. W., Birch, S. H., & Buhs, E. S. (1999). Children's social and scholastic lives in kindergarten: Related spheres of influence. Child Development, 70, 13731400.
Ladd, G. W., Kochenderfer, B. J., & Coleman, C. C. (1996). Friendship quality as a predictor of young children's early school adjustment. Child Development, 67, 11031118.
Ladd, G. W., & Profilet, S. M. (1996). The Child Behavior Scale: A teacher-report measure of young children's aggressive, withdrawn, and prosocial behaviors. Developmental Psychology, 32, 10081024.
Lindsey, E. W., Caldera, Y. M., & Tankersley, L. (2009). Marital conflict and the quality of young children's peer play behavior: The mediating and moderating role of parent–child emotional reciprocity and attachment security. Journal of Family Psychology, 23, 130145.
Lindsey, E. W., Colwell, M. J., Frabutt, J. M., & MacKinnon-Lewis, C. (2006). Family conflict in divorced and non-divorced families: Potential consequences for boys' friendship status and friendship quality. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 23, 4563.
MacKinnon-Lewis, C., & Lofquist, A. (1996). Antecedents and consequences of boys' depression and aggression: Family and school linkages. Journal of Family Psychology, 10, 490500.
Mahoney, A., Jouriles, E. N., & Scavone, J. (1997). Marital adjustment, marital discord over childrearing, and child behavior problems: Moderating effects of child age. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 26, 415423.
Marchman, V. A., & Fernald, A. (2008). Speed of word recognition and vocabulary knowledge in infancy predict cognitive and language outcomes in later childhood. Developmental Science, 11, F9F16.
Mason, W. A., Hitchings, J. E., McMahon, R. J., & Spoth, R. L. (2007). A test of three alternative hypotheses regarding the effects of early delinquency on adolescent psychosocial functioning and substance involvement. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 35, 831843.
Masten, A. S. (2006). Developmental psychopathology: Pathways to the future. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 30, 4754.
Masten, A. S., Roisman, G. I., Long, J. D., Burt, K. B., Obradović, J., Riley, J. R., et al. (2005). Developmental cascades: Linking academic achievement and externalizing and internalizing symptoms over 20 years. Developmental Psychology, 41, 733746.
McCoy, K., Cummings, E. M., & Davies, P. T. (2009). Constructive and destructive marital conflict, emotional security and children's prosocial behavior. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 50, 270279.
Mesman, J., Bongers, I. L., & Koot, H. M. (2001). Preschool developmental pathways to preadolescent internalizing and externalizing problems. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 42, 679689.
Moffitt, T. E. (1993). Adolescence-limited and life-course-persistent antisocial behavior: A developmental taxonomy. Psychological Review, 100, 674701.
Newcomb, A. F., Bukowski, W. M., & Pattee, L. (1993). Children's peer relations: A meta-analytic review of popular, rejected, neglected, controversial, and average sociometric status. Psychological Bulletin, 113, 99128.
Oesterle, S., Hill, K. G., Hawkins, J. D., & Abbott, R. D. (2008). Positive functioning and alcohol-use disorders from adolescence to young adulthood. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 69, 100111.
Panak, W. F., & Garber, J. (1992). Role of aggression, rejection, and attributions in the prediction of depression in children. Development and Psychopathology, 4, 145165.
Pettit, G. S., Dodge, K. A., & Brown, M. M. (1988). Early family experiences, social problem solving patterns, and children's social competence. Child Development, 59, 107120.
Richmond, M. K., & Stocker, C. M. (2007). Changes in children's appraisals of marital discord from childhood through adolescence. Journal of Family Psychology, 21, 416425.
Schoppe-Sullivan, S. J., Schermerhorn, A. C., & Cummings, E. M. (2007). Marital conflict and children's adjustment: Evaluation of the parenting process model. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69, 11181134.
Schwartz, D., Gorman, A. H., Duong, M. T., & Nakamoto, J. (2008). Peer relationships and academic achievement as interacting predictors of depressive symptoms during middle childhood. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 117, 289299.
Shelton, K. H., & Harold, G. T. (2008). Pathways between interparental conflict and adolescent psychological adjustment: Bridging links through children's cognitive appraisals and coping strategies. Journal of Early Adolescence, 28, 555582.
Singer, J. D., & Willet, J. B. (2003). Applied longitudinal data analysis: Modeling change and event occurrence. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Sroufe, L. A. (1997). Psychopathology as an outcome of development. Development and Psychopathology, 9, 251268.
Tabachnik, B. G., & Fidell, L. S. (2001). Using multivariate statistics (4th ed.).Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Underwood, M. K., Beron, K. J., Gentsch, J. K., Galperin, M. B., & Risser, S. D. (2008). Family correlates of children's social and physical aggression with peers: Negative interparental conflict strategies and parenting styles. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 32, 549562.
Vairami, M., & Vorria, P. (2007). Interparental conflict and (pre)adolescents' peer relationships. Hellenic Journal of Psychology, 4, 257280.
VanderValk, I., de Goede, M., Spruijt, D., & Meeus, W. (2007). A longitudinal study on transactional relations between parental marital distress and adolescent emotional adjustment. Family Therapy, 34, 169190.
Vaughan Sallquist, J., Eisenberg, N., Spinrad, T. L., Reiser, M., Hofer, C., Zhou, Q., et al. (2009). Positive and negative emotionality: Trajectories across six years and relations with social competence. Emotion, 9, 1528.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Development and Psychopathology
  • ISSN: 0954-5794
  • EISSN: 1469-2198
  • URL: /core/journals/development-and-psychopathology
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed