Parents’ Marital Conflict and Preschoolers’ Peer Relations: Determining a Best Fit Model Using Structural Equation Modeling

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Relationships between parents' marital conflict, children's responses to marital conflict, and children's engagement with peers were examined in preschool-aged children. Participants included 126 families with 4-year-old children. Two multi-informant models comprised of child, mother, father, teacher, and observational data were tested to determine a best fit model depicting relationships between the constructs of interest. It was hypothesized that the data would support mediated models in which the relationship between marital conflict and children's engagement with peers was mediated by the children's response to the conflict. Two mediated models were tested. The models differed only on the included subscale of the measure of peer conflict tactics. One model included problematic externalizing behaviors children may demonstrate with their peers, and the second included internalizing behaviors. Both hypothesized mediated models demonstrated marginally acceptable fit, but the externalizing model more fully depicted the relationships. Results showed that marital conflict relates to children's peer engagement indirectly, and its impact depends upon children's emotional response to the conflict. Further, the models revealed that the children's perspectives diverged from other reporters' perspectives on all three constructs. The findings from this study have important implications for clinical interventions with families and young children. Indeed, preschool-aged children's responses to marital conflict play a critical role in the relationship between marital conflict and children's peer relations.

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Clinical Psychology (PhD)

First Advisor

Clements, Mari L.

Document Type





Parent and child, Case studies, Marital conflict, Parental influences, Preschool children




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