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Interparental conflict, children's security with parents, and long-term risk of internalizing problems: A longitudinal study from ages 2 to 10

  • Rebecca L. Brock (a1) and Grazyna Kochanska (a1)

Although the negative impact of marital conflict on children has been amply documented, few studies have examined the process of risk in a long-term, longitudinal design. We examined parent–child attachment security as a mechanism that may account for the impact of interparental conflict on children's long-term risk of internalizing problems. Sixty-two community mothers, fathers, and children were followed from ages 2 to 10. Parents reported on their conflicts when their children were 2. Trained observers produced parent–child attachment security scores (Attachment Q-Set, Waters, 1987), based on lengthy naturalistic observations of the child with each parent. Parents rated children's internalizing problems at age 10. A conditional process model and bootstrap approach were implemented to examine conditional indirect effects of conflict on child internalizing problems through attachment security for girls versus boys. Maladaptive marital conflict (destructive strategies, severity of arguments) increased internalizing problems 8 years later due to the undermined security for girls, whereas negative emotional aftermath of conflict (unresolved, lingering tension) increased internalizing problems for both boys and girls. The emotional aftermath of conflict is often overlooked, yet it appears to be a key dimension influencing emotional security in the family system, with significant consequences for children's development.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Rebecca L. Brock, Department of Psychology, University of Iowa, 11 Seashore Hall East, Iowa City, IA 52242-1407; E-mail:
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