Interparental Conflict and Infants’ Behavior Problems: The Mediating Role of Maternal Sensitivity

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Abstract

Although the negative effect of interparental conflict on child behavior problems has been well established, few studies have examined this association during infancy. This study examined the associations between mother-reported interparental conflict and young children’s behavior problems over the first 2 years of their lives in a sample of 212 mothers and infants. Two aspects of maternal sensitivity, sensitivity during distressing and nondistressing contexts, were examined as possible mediators between interparental conflict and infants’ behavior problems. Results indicated that interparental conflict was associated directly with infants’ externalizing problems over time but was associated indirectly with infants’ internalizing problems over time via compromised maternal sensitivity within distressing contexts but not through maternal sensitivity within nondistressing contexts. No significant child gender differences were found. Such findings add to a limited body of research suggesting that the early interparental relationship context is relevant for infant adjustment. The salient mediating role of maternal sensitivity within distressing contexts provides important theoretical and practical insights for future studies.

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