Research studies consistently suggest that marital conflict affects children’s social functioning and strongly predicts their adjustment, including internalizing disorders (e.g. anxiety, depression, and withdrawal), externalizing disorders (e.g. aggression, delinquency, and conduct disorders), and academic achievement [1–4].
Although marital conflict is associated with children’s development, few studies have explored how different types of marital conflict affect it. Marital conflict typically is classified into two categories: destructive and constructive. Destructive marital conflict involves behaviors, such as violence, nonverbal conflict, withdrawal during conflict, verbal aggression or hostility, aggression against objects, and threats to family integrity . Exposure to destructive marital conflict precipitates children’s anger, worry, and sadness [5, 6]. Such conflict may put them at the risk for developing adjustment problems (internalizing and externalizing disorders), due to a lack of coping skills to deal with emotions, or the use of learned aggressive behavior for solving problems [1, 3, 7]. In contrast, constructive marital conflict involves successful conflict resolution, explanations of how conflict is resolved, and optimistic explanations of unresolved conflict . Exposure to constructive conflict fosters positive emotional reactions, such as happiness, safety, and security [3, 5, 8]. Constructive marital conflict may help children develop problem solving, coping, and conflict resolution skills by teaching them problem solving and effective communication skills [4, 6, 9]. Studies consistently suggest that destructive conflict increases children’s risk for adjustment disorders, whereas constructive conflict increases positive adjustment. Despite the differential effects of destructive and constructive conflict on children’s development, studies examining the different types of conflict and their developmental implications are lacking. Accordingly, the aim of this study was to examine destructive and constructive marital conflict as predictors of child development.
Parenting practices may mediate the association between marital conflict and children’s development . “Spillover” theories explaining the relationship between marital conflict and children’s functioning hypothesize that the negativity and positivity experienced in the inter-parental relationship transfer to the parent–child relationship [10, 11]. Parents engaged in destructive marital conflict often lack emotional availability and are less responsive to their children’s needs . Limited research has been conducted on the impact of constructive marital conflict on positive parenting, as most studies have focused on destructive marital conflict. Few studies have examined whether constructive marital conflict fosters positive spillover, resulting in more positive parent–child interactions and child development. Studies have consistently found a negative association (negative spillover) between destructive marital conflict and children’s development, and negative parenting practices appear to mediate these relationships. Most studies have focused on negative rather than positive parenting practices with minimal consideration of constructive relations’ effects on marital conflict. Investigations of negative and positive parenting practices are needed to understand how marital conflict impacts child development.
Children’s school adjustment is particularly important and the inability to adjust socially due to poor social skills (e.g. cooperation, self-control, and assertion) is a factor in their maladjustment to school [13, 14]. Social skills development is essential to acquire social competence [15, 16]. Social skills deficits in early childhood are relatively stable over time, and may have negative consequences, including, internalizing disorders, externalizing disorders, and poor academic performance; these consequences may be precursors of more severe problems later in life [17–19]. The development of children’s social skills is significantly affected by their child-rearing environment . Although marital conflict and parenting practices affect social competence [21, 22], few studies have investigated how these variables affect social skills in a comprehensive way. Thus, it is important to examine the associations among marital conflict, parenting practices, and social skills development in a comprehensive model.
Few studies have examined destructive and constructive marital conflict to understand the differential effects of conflict styles on children’s social competence. Although many studies have found negative associations between destructive marital conflict and children’s development, and that negative parenting practices mediate these relationships, few have investigated the impact of constructive marital conflict on positive parenting and child development. In addition, research suggests that marital conflict and parenting practices affect social competence independently, yet few investigations have addressed how these variables affect social skills in a comprehensive model.
It is important to analyze independent associations while controlling for other variables in investigations of the relationships among these variables; however, studies have primarily examined the relationships between different types of marital conflict, parenting practices, and child outcomes without analyzing these other associations. Therefore, we aimed to clarify the roles of marital conflict (i.e. destructive and constructive marital conflict), parenting practices (i.e. negative and positive parenting practices), and children’s social skills development (i.e. cooperation, self-control, and assertion) by analyzing these relationships in a comprehensive model.
We hypothesized the following pathways: (1) an indirect pathway between destructive marital conflict and lower child’s social skills development mediated by negative parenting practices; (2) an indirect pathway between constructive marital conflict and higher child’s social skills development mediated by positive parenting practices; (3) a direct pathway between the destructive marital relationship and lower child’s social skills development, and (4) a direct pathway between constructive marital relationship and higher child’s social skills development, adjusting for parenting practices.