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J Fam Psychol. 2012 Feb;26(1):105-14. doi: 10.1037/a0026722. Epub 2011 Dec 26.

Partner aggression in high-risk families from birth to age 3 years: associations with harsh parenting and child maladjustment.

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Oregon Social Learning Center, Eugene, OR, USA.


Aggression between partners represents a potential guiding force in family dynamics. However, research examining the influence of partner aggression (physically and psychologically aggressive acts by both partners) on harsh parenting and young child adjustment has been limited by a frequent focus on low-risk samples and by the examination of partner aggression at a single time point. Especially in the context of multiple risk factors and around transitions such as childbirth, partner aggression might be better understood as a dynamic process. In the present study, longitudinal trajectories of partner aggression from birth to age 3 years in a large, high-risk, and ethnically diverse sample (N = 461) were examined. Specific risk factors were tested as predictors of aggression over time, and the longitudinal effects of partner aggression on maternal harsh parenting and child maladjustment were examined. Partner aggression decreased over time, with higher maternal depression and lower maternal age predicting greater decreases in partner aggression. While taking into account contextual and psychosocial risk factors, higher partner aggression measured at birth and a smaller decrease over time independently predicted higher levels of maternal harsh parenting at age 3 years. Initial level of partner aggression and change over time predicted child maladjustment indirectly (via maternal harsh parenting). The implications of understanding change in partner aggression over time as a path to harsh parenting and young children's maladjustment in the context of multiple risk factors are discussed.

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