Understanding children's emotional processes and behavioral strategies in the context of marital conflict

Kalsea J. Koss, Melissa R.W. George, Kathleen N. Bergman, E. M. Cummings, Patrick T. Davies, Dante Cicchetti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations

Abstract

Marital conflict is a distressing context in which children must regulate their emotion and behavior; however, the associations between the multidimensionality of conflict and children's regulatory processes need to be examined. The current study examined differences in children's (N=207, mean age=8.02. years) emotions (mad, sad, scared, and happy) and behavioral strategies to regulate conflict exposure during resolved, unresolved, escalating, and child-rearing marital conflict vignettes. Children's cortisol levels were assessed in relation to child-rearing and resolved conflict vignettes. Anger and sadness were associated with escalating and child-rearing conflicts, fearfulness was related to escalating and unresolved conflicts, and happiness was associated with resolution. Anger was associated with children's strategies to stop conflict, whereas sadness was associated with monitoring and avoidant strategies. Cortisol recovery moderated the link between fearfulness and behavioral regulation. These results highlight the importance of children's emotions and regulatory processes in understanding the impact of marital conflict.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)336-352
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Volume109
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 1 2011

Keywords

  • Behavioral regulation
  • Childhood development
  • Cortisol
  • Emotion
  • Family relations
  • Interparental conflict

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