Children’s Responses to Everyday Marital Conflict Tactics in the Home

Parental Alienation

Mothers’ and fathers’ reports of marital conflicts in the home were obtained (n=1,638 and 1,281 conflicts, respectively), including conflicts in front of the children (n=580 and 377, respectively). Participants were 116 families with children 8 to 16 years old (M=10.82 years, SD=2.17; 58 boys, 58 girls). Children’s emotional responses indicated distinctions between distressing conflict tactics (i.e., threat, personal insult, verbal hostility, defensiveness, nonverbal hostility, marital withdrawal, physical distress) and those that increased their emotional security (i.e., calm discussion, support, affection). Analyses based on cross-reporter informants of parental conflict and child responses strengthened confidence in the findings. Conflict tactics were related to marital functioning, and children’s emotional reactions during marital conflicts were associated with their adjustment.

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