Beyond Destructive and Constructive Interparental Conflict: Children's Psychological Vulnerability to Interparental Disorganization

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Guided by models of family unpredictability, this study was designed to identify the distinctive sequelae of disorganized interparental conflict, a dimension of interparental conflict characterized by abrupt, inexplicable changes in parental emotional lability, conflict tactics, and verbalizations. Participants included 208 kindergarten children (M age = 5.74 years; 56% girls), mothers, and their caregiving partners from racially diverse backgrounds (e.g., 44% Black) who participated in a longitudinal study with two annual measurement occasions. At Wave 1, trained observers assessed disorganized interparental conflict. Observational and survey assessments were used to assess several family (i.e., interparental conflict, parenting difficulties, parent psychopathology, family instability) and demographic (i.e., children's gender, household income, parent education) characteristics. Assessments of child functioning at each wave included psychological adjustment (i.e., externalizing and internalizing symptoms, prosocial behavior), social information processing difficulties, and attention to emotion cues. Findings from structural equation modeling analyses indicated disorganized interparental conflict significantly predicted decreases in children's prosocial behavior and increases in their externalizing problems, angry reactivity to social problems, and biased attention to angry and sad cues over a one-year period. Results were significant while controlling for established measures of interparental conflict, parenting difficulties, parent psychopathology, family instability, and demographic characteristics. The findings suggest that disorganized characteristics of interparental conflict may be an important domain of clinical change beyond the established targets of family harshness and adversity. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).