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Family Pathways Contributing to Destructive Interparental Conflict From Infancy to Preschool Age: Investigating the Role of Child Temperament

Frances C Calkins, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Research clearly demonstrates that more conflictual interparental relationship dynamics create a family context contributing to child emotional insecurity and psychopathology. However, significantly less research has examined familial factors that contribute to maladaptive conflict patterns between parents. Scholars have alluded to the disruptive impacts of parenting a child with certain temperamental characteristics (e.g., a tendency toward frequent and intense displays of negative emotion). Yet, there is a lack of empirical research examining if and how child temperament contributes to later interparental conflict. The overarching goal of the present study was to test an integrated conceptual model examining the impact of infant negative emotionality on interparental conflict, occurring when the child is preschool-age, through coparenting and parent-child relationship dynamics. Importantly, parental protective factors (i.e., parental self-compassion and interparental secure base) were also examined as regulatory resources that buffer this maladaptive cascade. Study aims were pursued in an established sample of 150 families (mother, father, and child) who completed observational paradigms, semi-structured interviews, and self-report questionnaires during pregnancy and when the target child turned 1, 2, and 3.5 years of age. Findings suggest that higher infant negative emotionality predicts worse interparental conflict management when children are preschool age by undermining coparenting quality, reported by mothers, during toddlerhood, though only under certain conditions. Specifically, this cascade was only present when paternal self-compassion and interparental secure base, measured during pregnancy, were relatively low. When these prenatal resources were relatively high, this appeared to create a context for family flourishing such that greater infant negative emotionality actually promoted higher quality coparenting and, subsequently, better interparental conflict management. Interestingly, parent-child relationship dynamics did not emerge as a meaningful link between infant negative emotionality and interparental conflict under any conditions. These findings point to the importance of intervention and prevention efforts for parents, specifically targeting parental self-compassion and interparental secure base during pregnancy, which helps parents engage in healthier family dynamics while parenting a child who is more reactive and prone to expressing negative emotions.

Subject Area

Psychology|Developmental psychology|Individual & family studies

Recommended Citation

Calkins, Frances C, "Family Pathways Contributing to Destructive Interparental Conflict From Infancy to Preschool Age: Investigating the Role of Child Temperament" (2023). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI30640092.