Researchers from the University of Notre Dame and the University of Rochester have found in a new study that marital discord during a child’s kindergarten years may lead to long-term emotional problems and contribute to difficulties in adolescence.
Dr. E. Mark Cummings of Notre Dame and his colleagues examined 235 primarily middle-class mothers, fathers, and children over seven years, focusing on the links between marital conflict when the children were in kindergarten, children’s emotional insecurity in the early school years, and subsequent problems when the children were teens.
Experts say that children’s emotional security about family ties is related to their sense of protection, safety, and security, and has implications for how they do socially and emotionally.
The researchers observed parents discussing a topic they had identified as hard to handle, rating specific conflict behaviors. They also asked parents to report on their conflicts.
Investigators discovered that conflict between parents when their children are young predicted children’s emotional insecurity later in childhood, which, in turn, predicted adjustment problems in adolescence, including depression and anxiety.
“The results further highlight the possibility that there will be persistent negative effects of children’s early experiences when there is conflict between their parents, at least when their emotional insecurity increases as a result of the conflict,” noted Cummings.
“This study has important implications for clinicians and parents,” he added.
“Emotional insecurity appears to be an explanation for the effects of marital conflict on children’s later problems,” Cummings said. “This mechanism lasts across relatively long periods of time and across the transition between childhood and adolescence.”
The study appears in the journal Child Development.