Worries about marital conflict in children with anxiety disorders from divorced and intact families : relation to internalizing symptomatology

Karin Galliano, Florida International University

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Abstract

This study tested a systemic model in which internalizing behaviors in a clinically- referred sample of children are predicted by children’s perceptions of marital conflict in the context of three additional, well-researched, familial variables: parent-child relations, mother’s emotional functioning, and children’s perception of social support. After finding preliminary support for the model, its generalizability was tested in a combined sample of the clinically-referred group and a community-based group of elementary school children.

The clinical group consisted of 31 participants from a specialty clinic for children’s anxiety disorders: 15 boys and 16 girls, aged 6 to 16, from both intact and divorced homes. Children’s reports and mothers’ reports of children’s internalizing behaviors were submitted to separate analyses. Mothers’ reports of children’s internalizing behaviors were predicted only by mothers’ emotional functioning. As hypothesized by the model, children’s own reports of their internalizing behaviors were predicted significantly by children’s perceptions of marital conflict. Parent-child relations, children’s perception of social support, and one interaction term, children’s perception of marital conflict x children’s perception of parental rejection, contributed to the regression solution, while mother’s emotional functioning failed to meet entry criterion.

The combined sample added 37 community-based children, 18 boys and 19 girls, aged 6 to 11, creating a total of 68 subjects. The model was replicated on the combined sample.

Findings of the study suggest child perceptions of marital conflict have a strong direct effect on child internalizing behaviors, accounting for 28% of the variance between marital conflict and child outcome in the clinical sample and 42% in the combined sample. In the past only about 10% of the variance in children’s internalizing behaviors was explained by marital conflict. Importance implications are made for optimal assessment and specific treatment strategies for children and families experiencing marital conflict, especially for those at risk for anxiety disorders.

 

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