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Open Access Publications from the University of California

A longitudinal perspective on parent-child conflict and conflict resolution in youth with or without developmental disability

  • Author(s): Marquis, Willa
  • Advisor(s): Baker, Bruce L.
  • et al.

Parent-child conflict is associated with a range of negative socioemotional outcomes for youth, including mental health problems, poorer social functioning, and long-term detrimental effects on romantic partnerships and their own parenting practices. Little is known about parent-child conflict in families of youth with developmental disabilities (DD), namely intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorders, despite their particular susceptibility to its problematic impact. Youth with DD have a heightened risk of mental health problems and social difficulties, and their parents exhibit more stress and negative parenting. Furthermore, most research to-date has examined parent-child conflict during adolescence. Research exploring the longitudinal course of parent-child conflict and contributors to conflict earlier in development could help identify targets for effective early intervention. Finally, researchers debate as to what empirical methods best capture parent-child conflict. More research is needed to examine how self-report and behavioral observations of parent-child conflict relate to one another and to broader relational outcomes.

This dissertation is a three-study longitudinal examination of parent-child conflict and conflict resolution in youth with or without developmental disability. In Study 1, child emotion dysregulation and cognitive ability were investigated as predictors of parent-child conflict across ages 3 to 7 years. Results indicated that level of conflict increased across time only for children with both low intellectual functioning and high dysregulation, suggesting a transactional relationship between these two risk factors that underscores the importance of early behavioral intervention in offsetting problematic relational patterns. In Study 2, the unique and joint contributions of youth disability status (typically developing [TD] or with intellectual disability [ID]) and youth externalizing problems to observed parent-child conflict resolution behaviors were explored across pre- to mid-adolescence (ages 9, 13, and 15 years). The findings suggested that parental expectations may strongly influence parent-youth conflict resolution skills and indicated that externalizing behavior and conflict resolution skills may be more strongly linked within families of TD youth. In Study 3, disability status group differences (TD, ID, or with autism spectrum disorders [ASD]) were examined with respect to observed conflict resolution behaviors and parents’ and youths’ perceptions of conflict and closeness during mid-adolescence (age 15 years). The disability status groups were generally similar in terms of the observed behaviors and self-reported perceptions and how these related to one another, though there were some differentially negative outcomes and associations for TD youth as compared to their peers with ID or ASD. Results were explored in the context of additive risk and disruptive transition points during child development, as well as ways in which identifying resiliency and strengths can break down stigma for individuals with DD and their families.

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