Parental separation is a major adverse childhood experience. Parental separation is generally preceded by conflict, which is itself a risk factor for child problem behavior. Whether parental separation independent of conflict has negative effects on child problem behavior is unclear. This study was embedded in Generation R, a population-based cohort followed from fetal life until age 9 years. Information on family conflict was obtained from 5,808 mothers and fathers.
Family conflict from pregnancy onward and parental separation each strongly predicted child problem behavior up to preadolescence according to maternal and paternal ratings. The evidence for interaction implies that prenatal family conflict increased the children’s vulnerability to the harmful effect of parental separation. Overall, results indicated that if parental separation occurs in families with low levels of conflict, parental separation does not predict more child problem behavior. Moreover, the bidirectional pattern suggested that child problem behavior influences the persistence of family conflict. (Author abstract modified)
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