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Interparental Conflict and Preschoolers’ Peer Relations: The Moderating Roles of Temperament and Gender
Kevin M. David, University of Puget Sound and Bridget C. Murphy, Metropolitan State College of Denver

Abstract The relations between destructive interparental conflict (IPC) and three- to six-yearolds’ ( N = 62) peer relations were examined as a function of child temperament and gender. Regression analyses indicated that effortful control moderated the relations of IPC with children’s amount of peer interaction as well as with their problematic relations with peers. Specifically, high IPC was associated with low amount of interaction and high problematic relations for preschoolers low in effortful control, but it was related to high amount of interaction and low problems for those high in effortful control. Additionally, gender differences in the relations between IPC and the amount of peer interaction indicated that IPC was negatively related to the amount of interaction for girls but positively related to the amount for boys. The findings highlight the need for examining individual differences in the relations between IPC and the development of early peer relations. Keywords: interparental conflict; temperament; peer relations; gender Research has provided a wealth of information regarding the relations between destructive interparental conflict (henceforth called IPC; i.e., frequent and intense conflict) and children’s adjustment (see Cummings & Davies, 1994, 2002, for reviews). Until recently, however, relatively little attention has been given to the relations between IPC and more subtle aspects of children’s development, such as their peer relations (Katz & Gottman, 1994; Parke, Kim, Flyr, McDowell, Simpkins & Killian et al., 2001), although research suggests the importance of studying the impact that IPC has on children’s relationships outside of the family (Cookston, Harrist & Ainslie, 2003; Du Rocher Schudlich, Shamir & Cummings, 2004; Katz and Gottman, 1994, 1995; Kitzmann & Cohen, 2003; Lindsey, MacKinnon-Lewis, Campbell, Frabutt & Lamb, 2002; Stocker & Youngblade, 1999). Further, researchers have become increasingly interested in identifying children who are particularly at risk for problems as well as factors that protect children from the deleterious effects of destructive IPC (Cummings & Davies, 2002). In particular, theory (Davies & Cummings, 1994; Grych
Correspondence should be addressed to Kevin M. David, Department of Psychology, 1500 N. Warner, Tacoma, WA 98416, USA. Email:
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Kevin M. David and Bridget C. Murphy

& Fincham, 1990) and some empirical work (e.g., Davies& Windle, 2001) suggest that temperament moderates the impact of IPC on children’s adjustment. Yet the moderating effects of temperament in the context of IPC are not fully understood (Cummings & Davies, 2002) and little is known regarding the nature of temperament as a moderator of the relations between IPC and children’s peer relations. Thus, the primary goals of the present study were to examine the relations between destructive IPC and preschoolers’ peer relations and to assess the extent to which these relations are moderated by individual differences in child temperament. Because previous research also suggests that boys and girls may be affected differently by IPC exposure (see Davies & Lindsay, 2001 for a review), another goal was to examine the moderating role of gender in the associations between IPC and children’s peer relations. Several theoretical perspectives suggest that exposure to destructive IPC is likely to contribute to children’s problems with peers. For instance, Grych and Fincham (1990) hypothesized that children exposed to destructive IPC may learn to be aggressive and to use maladaptive problem-solving strategies during peer interactions. Moreover, Davies and Cummings (1994) asserted that IPC exposure can undermine children’s emotional security, hindering their abilities to successfully cope with daily problems and to have constructive peer interactions by promoting emotional dysregulation (Katz & Gottman, 1995). Children exposed to destructive IPC also may act out (i.e., misbehave) to interrupt their parents’ bickering and regain some sense of emotional security (Cummings & Davies, 1994). This misbehavior may temporarily distract their parents and end the conflict, which reinforces the use of destructive behaviors during subsequent exposures to IPC and in other contexts such as peer interactions. Indeed, previous research supports a relationship between IPC and children’s problematic peer relations, indicating that preschoolers become more aggressive toward a peer in a lab setting following exposure to simulated conflict between adult strangers (Cummings, 1987). In addition, parents’ reports of IPC are positively related to their reports of school-aged children’s aggression and problematic peer relations (Marcus, Lindahl & Malik, 2001; Stocker & Youngblade, 1999) as well as to preschoolers’ negativity with unfamiliar peers in a lab setting, for example, trying to take another child’s toy (Cookston, Harrist & Ainslie (2003). The findings also show that marital hostility is positively related to preschoolers’ observed antisocial behaviors, for example, fighting (Katz & Gottman, 1995) and negative affect (Katz & Gottman, 1997) with their best friend. Interparental conflict also seems to contribute to children’s enacted behavior during hypothetical peer interactions, as parents’ reports of destructive IPC are positively related to children’s aggressive responding during simulated peer conflicts (Du Rocher Schudlich et al., 2004). Consequently, young children exposed to relatively high levels of IPC are particularly likely to have problematic peer relations. Further, increases in negative reactions to conflict (El-Sheikh, 1994) are likely to lead children from high conflict homes to avoid social situations in an effort to keep them out of conflicts with others, perhaps as a way of preventing, and thus regulating, their own emotional arousal (Gordis, Margolin & John, 1997; Parke et al., 2001). The findings provide some support for this hypothesis, indicating that preschoolers from discordant families tend to remain at lower, potentially conflict-free levels of involvement, such as parallel play, with their best friend than preschoolers from nondiscordant families (Gottman & Katz, 1989). Thus, children from high conflict homes are likely to display relatively low levels of involvement with peers and play less with their peers than children from low conflict homes.
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Social Development, 16, 1, 2007

whereas others are quite socially competent (Rubin. Coplan... such that some children expressed virtually no negative emotions whereas others expressed high levels of negative emotion. Similarly. which are two central components of temperament (Rothbart & Bates.. 1998). little is known regarding the effects of IPC on children’s everyday functioning with a variety of peers. using multiple methods to measure peer relations can provide unique information from each and a more complete assessment of children’s overall functioning with peers. because frequency of interactions does not always predict acceptance and competence with peers (e. Katz & Gottman. whereas those who spend their time in solitary. Marshall. More recently. Regarding specific aspects of temperament.g. quiet exploration or constructive play are rated as no different from their more sociable peers on these variables (Henderson.. 1998).. 1987. Eisenberg. 1997. in part. to temperamental differences and Grych and Fincham (1990) suggested that aspects of emotionality and regulatory abilities.Interparental Conflict and Peer Relations 3 Moreover.. Spinrad. Farver & Branstetter. Rothbart and Bates defined effortful control as ‘the ability to inhibit a dominant response to perform a subdominant response’ (p. 2004). 1990) and research (e. 16. 1995) suggest that IPC exposure is related to children’s poor peer relations.. dismissing and preoccupied) based on differences in their emotional. 2002). Shepard et al. because they allow for comparisons across various children’s interactions in a controlled setting. 2007 . Therefore. Cummings found that the level of negative emotion that preschoolers expressed in response to interadult conflict varied. those who stand back from peers and watch the activities of others from afar) are rated as higher on internalizing problems and social fear than are other children. teachers’ reports of children’s social competence are commonly used to assess peer relations and they can provide useful information because teachers know the children well. Furthermore. 2002). Eisenberg & Fabes. Although theory (e. 2003) do not capture children’s everyday interactions with peers that they know. 2004) suggest that the associations between IPC and children’s peer relations are likely to be moderated by dispositional effortful control.. Grych & Fincham. Whereas assessments of children’s peer interactions in a laboratory provide useful information. 1977). 2007 Social Development. some children who frequently interact with peers behave aggressively and are disruptive to peer interactions. possibly because interparental discord does not affect all children in the same way and different children vary in their reactions to IPC (Cummings. Reiser.g. Therefore. Gottman. Davies and Forman found that school-aged children could be classified into three distinct emotional security profiles (i. Indeed. secure.. as these interactions are likely to provide unique information regarding children’s typical peer interactions and everyday functioning. Fox & Rubin. Fox & Calkins. Fabes.g. some children who engage in low levels of peer interaction (i. Indeed. and may be more objective in their ratings than are parents (Rubin. 1992. some research indicates that IPC does not directly predict children’s peer relationships (Lindsey et al. Cumberland. 137).e.g. theory (Derryberry & Rothbart. Cummings noted that individual differences in responding to conflict might be due. Rothbart & Bates. the amount of interaction and level of problematic relations are two distinct aspects of children’s peer relations that are important to assess in relation to IPC.. Davies & Forman. Bukowski & Parker. © Blackwell Publishing Ltd. it is important to study the unique relations between IPC and the amount as well as overall quality of children’s peer interactions. are likely to be important when considering the impact of IPC.g. 1998) and previous research (e. 1995). Cookston et al. Moreover. In particular. single ‘snapshot’ observations (e. it also is important to study how IPC relates to preschoolers’ naturally occurring interactions with various familiar peers. 1994. behavioral and cognitive reactions to simulated conflict. 1.e.

they may be unlikely to focus on threatening cues in stressful situations. as several studies have found gender differences in young children’s © Blackwell Publishing Ltd. children low in effortful control may be particularly sensitive to their parents’ quarrelling and may become overwhelmed by their negative affect during exposure to IPC. Eisenberg and Fabes (1992) hypothesized that children who have difficulty regulating their emotional arousal are likely to become easily overaroused when they witness others’ negative states. Shepard. Further. low effortful control is associated with children’s personal distress in response to an empathy-inducing film and parents’ negative emotional expressivity in the home is negatively related to situational sympathy (in response to the same film) for children low in effortful control (Valiente. Wolchik. Rothbart & Ahadi. during exposure to IPC. Wolchik & Curran. which may help minimize negative reactions to stressors (Lengua et al. Harger & Whitson. suggesting that effortful control may help attenuate negative affect (Rothbart. Rothbart & Bates. Although there is a paucity of research regarding positive emotionality and adjustment in general. Katz & Gottman. Cumberland & Losoya. 2001. Eisenberg. 2007 . Ahadi & Hershey. 1998). 16. Smith. Shepard et al. Rothbart. Holmgren et al. they may be particularly vulnerable to the impact of IPC on their relations with peers. Fabes. effortful control is negatively related to six. Consequently. Thus. Positive emotionality involves individual differences in frequency and amount of smiling. dispositional positive emotionality may somewhat protect children from the effects of IPC on their peer relations. 1989. laughter. 2000.4 Kevin M.. Another temperament dimension that may moderate the relations between IPC and preschoolers’ peer relations is positive emotionality (Cummings. and it is positively related to children’s resiliency to stress (Eisenberg. Therefore. some limited work suggests that positive emotionality buffers children from the negative effects of a rejecting parenting style (Lengua et al. 1997). In contrast. Indeed. 2003). Gender also may moderate the relations between destructive IPC and preschoolers’ peer relations. children high in effortful control may be able to shift their focus from their parents’ negative behaviors and emotions to other. Murphy Effortful control reflects dispositional self-regulation and involves the voluntary regulation of attention and behavior and the more reactive temperament systems such as negative emotionality (Rothbart. Indeed. Derryberry and Rothbart (1997) suggested that children high in effortful control may be able to disengage from environmental threats and internal feelings of anxiety by focusing their attention on positive aspects of the environment. Fabes. 2003). thus. more positive aspects of the environment. Sandler & West. Reiser. 2003). some limited work indicates that vagal tone (a physiological index of regulation) buffers children from the negative impact of IPC (El-Sheikh. low effortful control is likely to exacerbate the relations between IPC and problematic peer relations. 2007 Social Development. Sandler. somewhat buffering them from the effects of IPC. David and Bridget C. 2000). West. 1997. 1. 1999). Goeke-Morey & Papp.and sevenyear-olds’ dispositional negative emotionality. Fabes. Guthrie. pleasure and sensitivity to positive environmental cues (Lengua. Therefore. Valiente. children’s and adolescents’ positive emotional reactions to IPC in the home are associated with low levels of externalizing and internalizing problems (Cummings et al. Eisenberg.. 2004). Moreover. Murphy. 1999.. 1994).. 1994). Children prone to experiencing positive emotions may be particularly sensitive to positive and rewarding cues in the environment and may perceive stressors as temporary or as having the potential for positive outcomes in the future (Lengua.. such that good effortful control is likely to allows for adaptive actions in contexts where children would otherwise focus on their own distress. Reiser. 1989).

2007 Social Development. To obtain another perspective and measure of the children’s typical peer relations.Interparental Conflict and Peer Relations 5 responses to angry exchanges between adults (e. we examined the moderating role of gender. El-Sheikh. yell. El-Sheikh. theory (e. Eisenberg et al. 1.70 years.. anxiety and social withdrawal in response to inter-adult conflict (e... To recruit the participants.g. Given the limited research on IPC and children’s peer relations (Katz & Gottman. 2004. boys’ and girls’ responses to IPC are qualitatively different (Davies & Lindsay. 2000) led to the prediction that the hypothesized relations between IPC and peer relations would be particularly strong for children low in effortful control and those low in positive emotionality.g. 2001) and the need for further understanding regarding which children are particularly at risk and which children are buffered in the context of IPC (Cummings & Davies.00–6.. SD = 1. the first author spoke with mothers at five day care facilities as they picked up their children.67 years) and their mothers participated in the present study. We also expected gender to moderate the associations between IPC and peer relations such that IPC would be negatively related to amount of peer interaction. 2002). 1994. but more strongly positively related to problematic relations for boys than for girls.. El-Sheikh. Parke et al. 2007 . Davies & Cummings.g. The preschoolers’ peer relations were assessed with naturalistic observations conducted during free play at their day care center. Because boys’ and girls’ different responses to IPC may carry over into their peer relationships. 1994.. the teachers completed a measure of their social competence. 2002).g. teachers completed measures of child temperament. To assess IPC.g. Trained research assistants observed children numerous times over several weeks and coded the amount of their peer interactions and various aspects of their problematic peer relations. To minimize the threat of shared-method variance. as they may internalize their feelings in response to IPC and withdraw from social interaction. particularly for girls. 1994) and previous research (e. 1994. In contrast. 1994).g. 1997) and research (e. Derryberry & Rothbart. mothers completed measures pertaining to the frequency of their own and their partner’s behaviors and strategies (e. we examined the relations between IPC and preschoolers’ peer relations as a function of child temperament and gender. 2001). we hypothesized that IPC would be negatively related to the amount of peer interaction and positively related to problems with peers. Based on theory (e... 1995).1 After being informed about the study. insult partner) in the context of IPC. 1989. Method Participants Sixty-two preschoolers from two-parent households (32 boys and 30 girls. 16..g. Katz & Gottman. Young boys tend to act out by becoming aggressive in response to adults’ anger. approximately 80 percent of the mothers of children within the age range of interest agreed to participate and provided permission for their © Blackwell Publishing Ltd. range = 3. Although it cannot be concluded that either gender is more or less susceptible to the effects of IPC (Cummings & Davies. In addition. whereas girls tend to exhibit distress. Cummings & Reiter. age M = 4. Gottman & Katz. 1996).01 years. we expected high effortful control and high positive emotionality to at least partially buffer children from the negative effects of IPC.. Previous work suggested that high levels of IPC would be associated with problematic peer relations for boys but would be related to lower levels of involvement with peers for girls. Lengua et al.

African-American (3 percent). a code of 1 reflected no peer interactions for the entire observation. The children were predominately Caucasian (76 percent) and the remaining children were Native American (5 percent).993) and the mean education levels were 14. Specifically. Because the children’s amount of peer interaction was coded. Additionally. 2007 Social Development. the teachers who knew the children best completed measures of their temperament and social competence and were paid $5 for each child questionnaire that they completed..82 years (SD = 2. Procedure To assess the children’s peer interactions. David and Bridget C.96.60. 2007 . they were paid $5 as partial compensation for their participation.74 years) for the fathers. The observers had a list of the participants in the class and randomly chose a child to observe for 30 seconds. The mean income of the children’s households was $72. Asian (2 percent) and Other or Mixed (12 percent).03 years) for the mothers and 15. Multiple observations of each child (number of observations M = 30.e. although 16 percent were married to a stepfather.66) were conducted daily over the course of several weeks at various times of the day.02 years (SD = 2. To assess inter-rater reliability. p < . the mothers completed packets consisting of the IPC questionnaires and a demographic sheet. 16. inter-rater r (638) = . trained research assistants conducted focal individual time sampling observations (i. Approximately halfway through the observation data collection period. 1. Approximately 50 percent of the mothers who signed up returned their questionnaire packets that included the IPC measures. © Blackwell Publishing Ltd. each child in a class is observed in a random order for a given time period Shantz & Hobart [1989] of children’s naturally occurring free play in their classrooms and in the playground when they were outside at their day care center. The majority of mothers were married to the child’s biological father (84 percent).g. Murphy children’s participation.. Latino (2 percent). two observers independently observed the same child and coded the observational variables for 34 percent of the total number of observations.001.028 (SD = $39. When the mothers’ packets were returned. taking part in a back-and-forth discussion with a peer was coded higher on the amount of interaction than was parallel play). a 3 reflected an even mixture of peer interaction and no interaction and a 5 reflected high levels of peer interaction such that the child engaged in active verbal and/or physical interaction with peers for virtually the entire observation. the observers watched the children regardless of whether they were by themselves or interacting with other children. When coding amount of peer interaction. the observers considered the amount of time involved in peer interaction relative to the length of the observation and the types of activities that occurred when the children were with peers (e.6 Kevin M. Each child’s amount codes from all of his or her observations were averaged to create a single score reflecting the amount of peer interaction that was used in all analyses. SD = 1. Amount of Peer Interaction The observers coded the amount of peer interaction in which children engaged during each observation on a five-point scale (1 = no peer interaction to 5 = active physical/verbal exchange for virtually all of the observation).

verbalizations and gestures when coding. saying. p < . the degree of negative affect they expressed with peers and the frequency with which they provoked their peers. observers coded the focal child’s frequency of expressed negative affect. tense and problematic behaviors and verbalizations for the majority of interactions. Smith. giving dirty looks) oppositions.e. Provoking events could have been verbal (e.g. a 2 reflected the expression of some negative emotion that did not last for the majority of the time and a 3 reflected frequent negative affect in the form of negative facial expressions. behaviors and/or verbalizations lasting for the majority of the observation. A code of 5 reflected very unpleasant. The codes were made using a three-point scale (1 = absence of negative affect. an amount of peer interaction rating greater than 1. In addition. SD = . During each observation involving some peer interaction. (1999). hitting). initial provocation toward a peer) during each observation. Jones.e. or gestural (e. the observers coded the level of their hostility with peers. 2007 Social Development... the observers focused on the child’s facial and verbal cues as well as body postures. (1999). This code reflected the extent to which children interacted with their peers in a negative and hostile manner and the observers considered the focal child’s actions. interrater k = . When coding. provoking events did not need to be acknowledged by the other child to be considered provoking and the focal child must have © Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Provoking Incidents. 1.83. Guthrie. A code of 3 reflected a mixture of slightly pleasant and slightly unpleasant interactions or neutral interactions for the majority of exchanges.. although single acts of hostility were considered when coding. the observers recorded the number of times the focal child provoked a peer without first being provoked by the other child (see Shantz. Further. Poulin et al. this code reflected the overall level of the child’s hostility during all interactions with peers across the entire observation and not one particular action.g. you’re wrong’). A code of 1 reflected very pleasant. inter-rater r (452) = 85. presence/absence of behavior) assessing the frequency of a particular type of behavior (i. inter-rater r (452) = . 1987).36.96). 2 = some negative affect and 3 = high negative affect) adapted from Fabes et al.10) for use in analyses.g.001. that is. This was a categorical variable (i. the teachers completed a questionnaire assessing the children’s social competence. ‘no. Each child’s negative affect codes from all of his or her observations involving some interaction were averaged to form a negative affect composite (M = 1. p < . Eisenberg. the focal child did something that potentially could be viewed as oppositional by another child. A code of 1 reflected the absence of expressed negative emotions such that the child was either neutral or positive for the entire observation.e. 71 percent of total observations). Furthermore... 16. positive and friendly behaviors and verbalizations for the majority of the child’s interactions. Following each observation that involved some peer interaction (i.001.09. Negative Affect with Peers. Each child’s codes from all of his or her observations involving some peer interaction were averaged to form a hostility composite (M = 2. Following observations involving some peer interaction. physical (e.25).. 2007 .Interparental Conflict and Peer Relations Problematic Peer Relations 7 To assess the children’s problematic peer relations. observers coded the degree of the child’s hostility toward peers using a fivepoint scale (1 = very low hostility to 5 = very high hostility) adapted from Fabes. Hostility with Peers. SD = .

r (60) = . 2002 for a review).69.07. The CPS has been shown to be a reliable and valid measure of IPC when completed by mothers (Kerig.88)... The system used to code provoking incidents has been used before in research on preschoolers’ peer relations (Murphy & David. 1996) based on their interactions with their marital partner. Guthrie & Jones. Guthrie. which revealed one factor with the following loadings: hostility (.. they selected the statement that best described the child being rated and then indicated if the item was ‘sort of’ or ‘really’ true of the child). ‘spats’) and major (e. higher scores on this composite reflected higher levels of problematic relations. 2001). Murphy initiated the provocation. Interparental Conflict To assess destructive IPC.g. Fabes.g.g. SD = .. et al. provoking incidents (. 16. r (60) = . Eisenberg. ‘Raise voice. Higher scores on this scale reflected higher levels of social competence. The adapted version used in the present study contained seven items (a = . ‘big fights’) conflicts over the past year and were answered on a six-point scale (1 = once a year or less to 6 = just about every day).62). The frequency and verbal aggression subscales were highly related. M = . negative affect (..001. for the two frequency items. yell. e. 1996). it’s pretty easy to make friends’) and the teachers responded by using Harter’s fourpoint response scale (i.8 Kevin M. the mothers were asked to complete two subscales from the conflict and problem-solving scales (CPS) (Kerig. ‘For this child. total number of provoking incidents divided by total number of observations involving some peer interaction. The frequency and verbal aggression scales were used as they reflect aspects of IPC that have been found to be destructive for children’s adjustment (see Cummings & Davies. Because the participants did not all have equal numbers of observations. 1997). p < . Shepard.. Social Competence with Peers.74) and social competence (-. Murphy. Scores from the four measures reflecting the quality of children’s peer relations were subjected to a principal components factor analysis. Data Reduction. scores from the two subscales were standardized and averaged to form a destructive IPC composite that was used in all analyses. thus.g. p < ..2 Thus.65.54).001. Eisenberg.. The two items on the frequency scale assessed how often parents have engaged in minor (e. a = .92. Although this questionnaire was originally designed as a self-report measure for school-aged children. 1997. The 16 items on the verbal aggression scale assessed the frequency with which each mother and her partner yells. Each item contained two opposing statements (e. makes accusations and insults the other partner during IPC and were answered on a four-point scale (0 = never to 3 = often. ‘This child finds it hard to make friends’ vs. 1. the rate of provoking events was calculated for each child (i. shout’). David and Bridget C.g.e. Higher scores reflected higher IPC. the social competence scores were reversed and scores from the four measures were standardized and averaged to create a problematic peer relations composite that was used in subsequent analyses. The teachers completed an adapted version of the social competence subscale from Harter’s (1982) perceived competence scale for children. © Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2007 .09) and used as a measure of provoking incidents in subsequent analyses.86) that assessed the children’s popularity with peers and their overall social skills. it has been adapted and used in several studies examining teachers’ ratings of young children’s peer relations (e.e. 2007 Social Development.

inhibitory control (. 2007 Social Development. Rothbart & Ye.91). 1986).. To assess positive emotionality.g.56) and (2) smiling and laughter (. low intensity pleasure (...24.. 2001).g. e.05. p > .93. Means and standard deviations for the major variables are presented in Table 1.72.g. For all subscales on the CBQ.86). gender differences and the relations between IPC and the other variables. Thus. Data Reduction. temperament and gender followed the preliminary analyses. e.Interparental Conflict and Peer Relations Temperament 9 To assess child temperament. Scores loading onto the second factor came from two questionnaires with different scales and so scores from these subscales were standardized and averaged to create a positive emotionality composite that was used in subsequent analyses. ‘Is good at following instructions’). Higher scores on this composite reflected higher levels of effortful control. higher scores on this composite indicated higher positive emotionality. Regression analyses assessing the prediction of preschoolers’ peer relations by IPC. ‘Seems to listen to even quiet sounds’). The effortful control and positive emotionality composite scores were not significantly correlated. Effortful Control. shows strong concentration’). (2) inhibitory control (13 items. 1993.g. a = . Scores from the six temperament scales were subjected to a principal components factor analysis with a varimax rotation. (3) low intensity pleasure (13 items. e. 1.. the teachers decided whether each statement is true or untrue of the child being rated within the past six months and made ratings on a seven-point scale (1 = extremely untrue of this child to 7 = extremely true of this child). © Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Based on previous research (Ahadi.77. the teachers completed the smiling and laughter subscale of the CBQ (13 items. ‘Laughs a lot at jokes and silly happenings’) and the mood quality subscale of the DOTS-R (seven items.. Rothbart et al. a = . a = . Results Preliminary analyses were conducted to examine the relations between age and the major variables. Windle & Lerner. ‘When drawing or coloring in a book.92) and mood quality (. 16.90). 1986). Hershey & Fisher. the teachers completed subscales from the child behavior questionnaire (CBQ) (Rothbart. The CBQ and DOTS-R have been established as reliable and valid measures of child temperament (Rothbart et al. Positive Emotionality.g. which revealed two factors with the following loadings: (1) attentional focusing (... Ahadi. e.g. the scores loading onto the first factor were averaged to form an effortful control composite that was used in subsequent analyses. r (60) = . 2007 .90. a = . effortful control was assessed using the following subscales from the CBQ: (1) attentional focusing (nine items.85. a = . 2001. 2001) and the revised dimensions of temperament survey (DOTS-R) (Windle & Lerner. ‘This child’s mood is generally cheerful’). ‘Enjoys just sitting quietly in the sunshine’) and (4) perceptual sensitivity (12 items.83. For the mood quality scale. the teachers were instructed to decide how true or false each statement is regarding the child and to respond using a four-point scale (1 = usually false to 4 = usually true). e.73) and perceptual sensitivity (. e. a = .

79 .58 . The multivariate test for the peer relations variables (i. three.97 . Zero-order correlations indicated that age was positively related to amount of peer interaction..00 4.10 Kevin M. F (1.53.11 Boys SD .05. . p < . However.91 .00. 59) = 2. David and Bridget C. F (1. age was unrelated to six-year-olds) was assessed and there were no specific predictions regarding age.75 . © Blackwell Publishing Ltd. p > .17 .58 .12.16 . F (2. 60) = 23. Means and Standard Deviations for the Major Variables Total Measure Destructive IPCa Temperament Effortful controlb Positive emotionalitya Peer Relations Amount of interactionc Problematic relationsa a b Girls SD .55 .74 .93 M -. effortful control and problematic peer relations.11 3.00 .12 SD . rs (60) = .67 .00 2.34.70 2.001..02.s.52 .96 M .21 . F (2. p > .01.89 M . r (60) = -.31. amount of interaction and problematic peer relations) was not significant.87 -. p < . Relations with Age Although a relatively narrow age range (i.49 . Gender Differences To assess gender differences we conducted two separate multivariate analyses of variance (MANOVAs) with gender as the independent variable and the temperament dimensions and the peer relations variables as the multiple dependent variables. Univariate analyses indicated that girls were rated by teachers as significantly higher on effortful control than were boys.64 .02. c Possible scores ranged from 1–5. p > .59 2. 2007 .72 -.44. 2007 Social Development.01.001. and a t-test revealed no gender difference on IPC. Murphy Table 1.e. Although we controlled for age in initial regression analyses.05. although boys and girls did not differ on positive emotionality. IPC = interparental conflict.76 Composite of standardized scores from more than one measure. respectively. 1. r (60) = . it was dropped from all analyses because it did not change any of the results. n.12 4. we examined the relations between age and the major variables.05 respectively. p < . and negatively correlated with positive emotionality.06. 60) = 1. 16.e. and a t-test on IPC scores.09 and -. Possible scores ranged from 1–7. 59) = 11. p < . t(60) = 1. The omnibus test for temperament was significant.

positive emotionality and gender) and the four-way interaction (i. The three-way interactions between the predictors (i.21 and . the two-way interactions as a block significantly predicted amount. A significant interaction between IPC and gender revealed that IPC was negatively related to amount of interaction for girls but positively related to amount for boys (see Figure 2. between IPC and positive emotionality. Following the recommendation of Aiken and West (1991). respectively. as well as the moderating effects of temperament and gender. between IPC.25. Results from the regression analysis predicting amount of peer interaction are presented in Table 2. IPC also was unrelated to effortful control and positive emotionality. a significant interaction between IPC and effortful control indicated that IPC was negatively related to amount of peer interaction for children low in effortful control but positively related to amount for those high in effortful control (see Figure 1. p > . the simple regression lines predicting the criterion variable from IPC were plotted for low (-1 SD) and high (+1 SD) values of the moderating variable. p > . for two-way interactions between IPC and temperament. and between IPC and gender (IPC and positive emotionality scores were already in standardized form and effortful control was centered before its interaction term was created). Prediction of Amount of Peer Interaction. However. On the second step. Regression Analyses Predicting Peer Relations To assess the main effects of IPC. positive emotionality and gender) were initially entered on the third and fourth steps of each analysis. none of these interactions were significant and so they were dropped from all analyses. temperament and gender. between IPC. positive emotionality and gender and (2) the two-way interactions between IPC and effortful control.05. the simple regression lines were plotted for boys and girls. effortful control. 16.Interparental Conflict and Peer Relations Relations between Destructive IPC and the Other Variables 11 Contrary to expectations. the slopes for low and high effortful control were -. respectively). respectively.. respectively.08 and -.13. Specifically. This hierarchical order of entry allowed for the examination of whether the interactions predicted significant variance in peer relations above and beyond the variance accounted for by the main effects. respectively). For interactions between IPC and gender. In each case. predictor variables were entered hierarchically in the following order for each analysis: (1) the main effects of IPC.05. p < . we conducted separate multiple regression analyses to predict the two criterion variables reflecting children’s peer relations: the amount of interaction and problematic peer relations.05.. rs (60) = .e. Significant two-way interactions were plotted and tested using Aiken and West’s (1991) procedures for assessing and mapping interactions in regression.05 and . the slopes for girls and boys were -. 2007 .e. between IPC. The main effects did not produce a significant change in R2 on the first step and none of the individual betas were significant. effortful control and gender.05. rs (60) = . the simple slopes were examined to determine if they differed significantly from zero. 1.24 and .04. effortful control. © Blackwell Publishing Ltd. The interaction between IPC and positive emotionality was not significant. Specifically. 2007 Social Development.26. destructive IPC was not significantly correlated with the amount of peer interaction and problematic peer relations. effortful control and positive emotionality and between IPC. p < .

1.40** -.00 -.34** . the two-way interactions as a block significantly contributed to prediction.50** .15 .03 F for Step . as the significant relations between IPC and preschoolers’ peer relations were in opposite © Blackwell Publishing Ltd.. 2003.47** -.28* .18 5.08 -. Katz & Gottman. Prediction of Problematic Peer Relations. However.01 Predictors Step 1 Destructive IPC Effortful control Positive emotionality Gender Step 2 IPC ¥ effortful control IPC ¥ positive emotionality IPC ¥ gender Beta Beta IPC = interparental conflict. 16. The moderating effects of effortful control may account for the nonsignificant main effect of IPC.28 and -. The interactions between IPC and positive emotionality and between IPC and gender were not significant. Discussion Although some research has shown that IPC is associated with young children’s peer relationships (e.13 Problematic Peer Relations R2 Change . a significant interaction between IPC and effortful control indicated that IPC was positively related to problems for children low in effortful control but negatively related to problems for those high in effortful control (see Figure 3. the present study is one of the first investigations of the moderating role of child temperament in the relations between destructive IPC and preschoolers’ everyday functioning with peers.05. Cookston et al.14 .15 3. Table 2 shows the results of the regression analysis predicting problematic peer relations. 2007 Social Development.63* . findings from regression analyses extend previous work by demonstrating that young children’s peer relations are affected differently by IPC depending on their levels of dispositional effortful control.00 -. the slopes for low and high effortful control were .20 F for Step 3.00 -.03 .01. * p < . The main effects entered as a block on the first step produced a significant change in R2.. Specifically. 1995).42** -. ps < . David and Bridget C. 2007 . On the second step.05.g. as high levels of effortful control were associated with low levels of problematic peer relations.07 .12 Kevin M. ** p < . Although zero-order correlations indicated that IPC was not significantly related to children’s peer relations. the only significant individual predictor was effortful control.47 . Regression Analyses Predicting Amount of Peer Interaction and Problematic Peer Relations Amount of Peer Interaction R2 Change . respectively). Murphy Table 2.34.

Poulin & Hanish. 2004) and tend to have relatively problematic relations with peers in general (e. preschoolers low in effortful control seemed to be particularly vulnerable to the effects of IPC on their peer relations.5 3 2. 16. Further. Gender also moderated the associations between IPC and peer relations. Eisenberg. Fabes. as higher IPC was related to a lower amount of interaction for girls but associated with a higher amount for boys. findings highlight the importance of considering intrapersonal attributes as sources of individual differences when examining the role of IPC in the development of peer relations. 1. 1992). 2007 Social Development.. IPC was negatively related to the amount of peer interaction and positively related to problematic relations for children low in effortful control but positively related to amount of interaction and negatively related to problems for those high in effortful control. 2007 . which commonly leads to personal distress and a focus on the self rather than others (Eisenberg & Fabes. Specifically. 1999). 1993.Interparental Conflict and Peer Relations 5 13 4. Prediction of Amount of Peer Interaction by IPC and Effortful Control. high IPC was associated with low levels of interaction and high levels of problems with peers. Consistent with expectations. Fabes et al.5 Low effortful control High effortful control 4 Amount of peer interaction 3. Thus. Karbon.g.5 2 1. Thus. Bernzweig.5 1 Low Medium High Destructive IPC Figure 1. Note: IPC = interparental conflict. directions for children low and high in effortful control.. preschoolers who are low in effortful control and come from high conflict homes are likely to become overwhelmed by their own emotions during exposure to negative © Blackwell Publishing Ltd. For these children. Children low in regulation become easily overaroused by their own emotional reactions during stressful situations. individuals who are low in dispositional regulation are particularly likely to become sensitized to negative interactions following high levels of IPC exposure (David & Murphy.

Murphy 4. emotion and behaviors and cognitions that are emotion-related as well as those that are unrelated to emotions (Derryberry & © Blackwell Publishing Ltd.5 2 1. 1. In contrast. both at home and with peers. although the present findings do not determine whether preschoolers low in effortful control purposely avoid other children or if they have low levels of interaction because they are rejected based on their hostile responses. the results nevertheless indicate that they do engage in relatively low amounts of peer interaction. 2007 Social Development. Prediction of Amount of Peer Interaction by IPC and Gender. which can contribute to negative interpretations and assessments of social situations and result in hostile interactions with peers (Eisenberg & Fabes. the factors and processes that determine their vulnerability to specific types of adjustment problems remain unclear. 1998).5 Girls Boys 4 Amount of peer interaction 3. Effortful control involves the abilities to voluntarily regulate attention. 16. interactions. the findings suggest that they may be at risk for both types of problems as they interacted less and had more problems with their peers than other children. Further. Note: IPC = interparental conflict. high effortful control seemed to foster children’s abilities to maintain relatively constructive peer relations at high levels of IPC. David and Bridget C. Future research should focus on the nature of poorly regulated children’s peer relations in more detail to ascertain if they are particularly prone to internalizing or externalizing symptoms in the context of IPC.14 5 Kevin M. Lemerise & Arsenio. 2007 ..5 3 2. Although adjustment problems were not directly assessed in the present study.5 1 Low High Destructive IPC Figure 2. 1992. 2000). Nevertheless. Withdrawing from peers can lead to subsequent problems as they are likely to be missing out on fully developing the social and cognitive skills that advance in the context of peer interactions and play (Rubin et al.

1997.4 Problematic peer relations . Forman. 2007 . children high in effortful control are unlikely to become directly involved in their parents’ conflicts. Rothbart & Bates.2 –. Eisenberg et al. Prediction of Problematic Peer Relations by IPC and Effortful Control. 2001).g. rather than those who are able to effectively regulate their reactions. Rothbart.Interparental Conflict and Peer Relations . although they are likely to experience sympathy in response to IPC. 1. Moreover.4 –. suggesting that children with difficulties in regulating their reactivity and behavior (i.e.. preschoolers high in effortful control may be able to disengage from environmental threats and enhance positive rather than negative aspects of stressful situations such as IPC. 2000).1 15 . their regulatory abilities likely allow them to evaluate their parents’ conflicts from a more detached and less emotional perspective.6 . 2000).2 .8 Low effortful control High effortful control .0 –. 1998). 2007 Social Development. Rasi & Stevens. 8 –. Note: IPC = interparental conflict.1 Low Medium High Destructive IPC Figure 3. Thus. 2002).. 2004. are particularly likely to become emotionally overwhelmed and enmeshed in their parents’ quarrels. In contrast. Children’s emotional reactivity and behavioral dysregulation in response to IPC are positively related to their involvement in their parents’ conflicts (Davies. Although young children in general tend to focus on immediate concerns regarding their own safety and arousal during IPC (Grych & Cardoza-Fernandes. which may result in a greater awareness of the © Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 1995. Posner & Rothbart. those low in effortful control). 16. Emotion regulation abilities are believed to influence what individuals notice about social situations and the meanings they attribute to them (Lemerise & Arsenio. fostering empathy in the form of sympathy rather than a focus on their own emotions (Eisenberg & Fabes.6 –.. parents’ interactions immediately following conflict). experiencing sympathy rather than personal distress may lead children high in effortful control to focus on their parents’ emotions and on the conflict outcomes (e.

2007 Social Development.42. which contributes to their subsequent peer acceptance. Segal & Jouriles. 1996). 1980. SD = . SD = 3. 1991). 1.. further research is needed to examine the extent to which effortful control buffers children from the impact of very high levels of conflict. Duncan & Masters.. as their regulatory abilities seem to foster adjustment in the context of moderately high levels of IPC but the benefits of effortful control in the context of more severe IPC remain unclear. Thus. 1998) support this idea. Fabes. 2000).27 on a 3–18 scale. it is children high in effortful control who are likely to be capable of developing compensatory relationships. engaging in frequent peer interactions that are relatively low in problems is likely to facilitate overall adjustment. O’Connor. it is important to note that even relatively high scores on the IPC measures in the present study were not particularly high in absolute terms (for frequency. 2007 . children high in effortful control who are from high conflict homes may be particularly selective when choosing the peers with whom they interact. other researchers have found somewhat higher levels of destructive IPC in community samples (e. Zelko. 1998 for a review). Although the factors promoting the development of these forms of relationships are not well understood. Nyman & Michealieu.16 Kevin M. Eisenberg. Children who behave in a prosocial manner with peers tend to have more friends than other children. good regulatory skills seem to allow these children to circumvent the harmful effects of IPC by developing compensatory relationships with peers that include relatively low levels of problems.35. Moreover. Thus. 2001. Murphy disruptiveness of negative interactions as the preschoolers are able to correctly identify others’ emotions and the situations that cause negative emotions (Barden. Some findings from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Pregnancy and Childhood (Dunn. Radpour. for verbal aggression.. as it may provide opportunities to learn about negative emotions and differences of opinion. rather than being unrelated to peer relations. Wasserstein & La Greca. their experiences with IPC may lead them to seek out and play with peers who typically play constructively and do not engage in problematic behavior themselves. Thus. Deater-Deckard. high IPC was associated with more frequent peer interactions and fewer problems with peers for children high in effortful control. That is. Kerig. © Blackwell Publishing Ltd. David and Bridget C. which may further contribute to the resiliency of children high in effortful control. 2001. 16. Nevertheless. These children are effective at approaching situations in the face of punishment and avoiding situations in the face of immediate cues for reward (Eisenberg. the development of constructive compensatory relationships with peers may buffer children from the effects of IPC (Parke et al. 2002) such that they may be particularly good at shifting their attention away from rewarding features of aggression as well as from negative cues related to anger (Posner & Rothbart. preschoolers high in effortful control may be especially motivated to avoid negative exchanges and maintain positive interactions in their own relationships. Parke et al. Golding & the ALSPAC Study Team. M = 7. Consequently. M = 1. 1995). El-Sheikh et al. Interestingly. Naylor. although peer relations were examined as an outcome in the present study. (2001) suggested that some children exposed to destructive IPC may develop compensatory relationships as a way of avoiding conflicts and angry situations.. exposure to moderately high levels of IPC may be somewhat beneficial for children who can effectively modulate their own arousal and attention. psychological adjustment and academic success (see Rubin et al. 1996) and levels of destructive IPC are significantly higher in clinical samples (King. which is likely to lead to constructive behavior during peer interactions. Moreover. Further.57 on a 0–3 scale). as mother–partner hostility significantly predicted friendliness between siblings in early childhood.g. Pickering. However.

The findings also indicated that gender moderated the relations between IPC and the preschoolers’ amount of peer interaction. a developmental trajectory toward internalizing problems for girls from high conflict homes may begin with withdrawing from peers during early childhood. Indeed. IPC was negatively related to the amount of interaction for girls but positively related to the amount for boys. preschool boys from high conflict homes may be particularly likely to seek out peers as a source of comfort by interacting with them more than boys from low conflict homes because young boys generally are more assertive and physically © Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Grych & Fincham.. which girls are especially vulnerable to in the context of IPC (see Cummings & Davies. 1998). Frequently experiencing high levels of positive affect may not help children maintain a low level of arousal during IPC. Withdrawing from peers may lead to later difficulties with peers. preschool children classified as socially reticent (i.. perceived threat and distress in response to IPC (see Davies & Lindsay. some researchers believe that gender differences in socialization are likely to result in the development of dispositions reflecting agency and self-interest in boys and communion and interpersonal connectedness in girls (see Ruble & Martin. Thus. because previous research suggests that positive emotionality plays a role in moderating the relations between family experiences and adjustment (Lengua et al. Naylor & Stonecipher. 2001). the present findings suggest that low levels of positive emotionality may not contribute to negative effects of IPC as long as the children can effectively regulate their emotional reactions to IPC. Therefore. whereas girls may be especially sensitive to the overall quality of relationships and the implications that conflicts have for relationships. boys may be particularly focused on themselves during exposure to IPC.e. 1994). 2007 .. Although children high in positive emotionality may focus on positive aspects of the environment and maintain a positive outlook during stressful situations (Lengua. 2002). Similarly. 1990). 2001). Girls’ greater sensitivity to the harmful effects of IPC may lead to self-blame. further work is needed to fully examine the role that positive emotionality plays in the context of IPC. Specifically. 1989. Although conceptual explanations of the processes underlying gender differences in the context of IPC are in the early stages of development (Davies & Lindsay. Murphy. 1.Interparental Conflict and Peer Relations 17 Contrary to expectations. perhaps as a way of avoiding negative interactions and arousal. although additional research is needed to examine the mediating role of social withdrawal in the relations between IPC and the development of internalizing problems. 2000) and research on the protective function of positive emotionality is scarce (Lengua. In addition. 2002). 1994. 2004). research suggests that young girls are more sensitive to characteristics of hypothetical peer conflict such as conflict intensity (David. as children from discordant homes who play at low levels of involvement with peers may not learn the complex interaction skills that are necessary for successful peer interactions (Gottman & Katz.. In contrast. 2007 Social Development. which are likely to result in withdrawing from high levels of involvement with peers (Cummings & Davies. 16. 1996) than are young boys. their abilities to regulate attention and negative emotional arousal in the context of IPC and with peers may be more important for determining the effects of IPC on peer relations. Nonetheless. 2002). whereas good regulatory abilities allow children to modulate their reactivity so that they can focus on constructive reactions to stressful situations such as IPC. positive emotionality did not moderate the relations between IPC and children’s peer relations. children who stand back from groups but carefully watch the activities of others) are rated as particularly high on internalizing problems (Henderson et al. 2004) and inter-adult conflict such as resolution (El-Sheikh et al.

it is important to note that in the present study the problematic peer relations of the boys did not vary as a function of IPC. and elicitation of reactions from others (Rothbart & Bates. 1998). Furthermore. Turner. Although aspects of temperament such as effortful control can influence learning processes. Murphy active than are young girls (Eaton & Enns.18 Kevin M. it is unclear whether they are successful in their attempts to engage in positive peer interactions to offset the negativity they witness at home. 1994). Indeed. 1986. David and Bridget C. and the factors that contribute to the protective role of peers in the context of IPC. Apostoleris & Parnass. Furthermore. particularly boys. Kitzmann & Cohen. Rubin et al. Moreover. 2007 . suggesting that these children are particularly vulnerable to disturbances in their relations with peers. boys from discordant families may seek out high levels of peer interaction because boys spend more time in peer groups than do girls. there are several variables pertaining to peer relations that were not assessed and require investigation. Research indicating that children behave more positively with their friends than with other peers (see Laursen. then the relations between IPC and the children’s problematic peer interactions may have been attenuated and underestimated the negative impact of IPC on their social competence. Hartup & Koplas. Parke et al.. seek out peers as sources of comfort. Indeed. Thus. thus. Atkinson. 2003). 16. if young boys are seeking out their peers as sources of distraction and support. future research should examine the extent to which the associations between IPC and peer relations vary as a function of relationship. Despite this possibility. it is difficult to draw causal conclusions regarding the ways in which temperament and gender moderate the relations between IPC and children’s peer relations. Nevertheless. 1. (2001) highlight the importance of studying the relations between specific IPC tactics displayed in the home and children’s conflict resolution strategies with peers. However. suggesting the importance of examining the relations between IPC and children’s actual peer conflicts. it is possible that they chose to interact with their friends more often than with other children. Specifically. 1998). 2004). if children did play with friends more often than with other peers. given that the data are correlational. interpretations and selections of situations. who tend to spend time with one or two other children (Archer. 1998) and they tend to manifest their reactions to interadult anger behaviorally (El-Sheikh. 1999. Ruble & Martin. 1997) and may have more peers available to them who can serve as sources of companionship. ageappropriate relationships (Dadds. 2007 Social Development. 1992. Davies and Cummings (1994) asserted that consistent exposure to destructive IPC may contribute © Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Future research should assess the extent to which children from high conflict homes. as it is likely that IPC influences children’s repertoire of conflict tactics and the way they approach conflict resolution in their own. parents’ reports of destructive IPC are related to young children’s conflict strategies in simulated peer conflicts (Du Rocher Schudlich et al. although the children interacted with various peers during the observations. Blums & Lendich. 1998. 1996. Some limitations of the present study warrant discussion. Benenson. the findings revealed associations between high IPC and infrequent and problematic peer interactions for children low in effortful control. environmental factors can also contribute to the development of dispositional tendencies (Caspi.. Although the observations and teacher ratings in the present study provided valuable information regarding young children’s everyday functioning with various peers. The developmental models are likely to be complex. for reviews) suggests that children from high conflict homes may be particularly likely to evidence disruptions in interactions with non-friends.

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Zero-order correlations revealed that hostility toward peers was positively associated with negative affect with peers as well as provoking incidents and negatively related to social competence. Notes 1. © Blackwell Publishing Ltd. teachers. who assisted with this study.32. 16. 2007 . multivariate analyses failed to reveal significant differences between the day care centers on the major variables of interest. provoking incidents and social competence were not significant. Bard who also assisted with this study.05.41. Jazmine Coulter. the zero-order correlations among negative affect. although two day care centers were significantly different from one another on mean provoking incidents. Brandon Reed. administrators and children at La Petite and KinderCare as well as Kim Baird. . Sarah Kroll.Interparental Conflict and Peer Relations Acknowledgments 23 The authors thank the parents. Moreover. 2. In addition. teachers and children. Cassandra Gray. respectively. This was likely because of the two highest scores on provoking incidents coming from the same day care centre. Kristen Russell and Mark Uptegrove.61 and -. However. rs (60) = . The five day care facilities were all similar in number of classrooms. 2007 Social Development. ps < . Allison Doonkeen. the authors wish to express special thanks to David E. 1.