Mechanisms Underlying the Influence of Disruptive Child Behavior on Interparental Communication

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Abstract

Prospective and experimental manipulations of child behavior have demonstrated that disruptive child behavior causes interparental discord. However, research has yet to test for mechanisms underlying this causal pathway. There is reason to suspect parent affect and parenting behavior explain child effects on interparental relations. To investigate this hypothesis, parent couples of 9- to 12-year-old boys and girls with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD; n = 51) and without ADHD (n = 39) were randomly assigned to interact with a confederate child exhibiting “disruptive” or “typical” behavior. Parents rated their own affect, as well as the quality of their partner's parenting and communication, immediately following the interaction. Observers also coded the quality of parenting and communication behaviors parents exhibited during the interaction. Parents who interacted with disruptive confederates reported lower positive affect and higher negative affect than those who interacted with typical confederates. Parents were also noted by their partners and observers to parent disruptive confederates more negatively than typical confederates. Multilevel mediation models with observational coding and partner ratings both found that negative parenting explained the causal pathway between disruptive child behavior and negative communication. Exploratory analyses revealed that the strength of this pathway did not differ between parents of children with and without ADHD. Parent affect was not found to explain child effects on interparental communication. Though methodological issues limit the generalizability of these findings, results indicate that negative parenting may be one mechanism through which disruptive children cause interparental discord.

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