The reciprocal transactions that shape early parent–child relationships are influenced by contextual stress, such as family conflict. Although family conflict is a salient stressor to the family system, few studies have considered how parent–child transactions vary according to exposure to family conflict. The present study examined how family conflict alters early parent–child behavioral transactions. We utilized three waves of data from a multisite longitudinal study of low-income families (N = 2, 876), child age 14 months, 24 months, and 36 months, to identify behavioral transactions of positive and negative maternal (supportiveness, negative regard) and child (engagement, negativity) behaviors. Results indicated that family conflict at 14 months diminished the positive association between maternal supportiveness and child engagement, and amplified the inverse association between maternal negativity and child engagement. Family conflict at 14 months also was associated with increased stability of child negativity and subsequent increased maternal negative regard at 36 months, in part via increases in 24-month child negativity. In sum, family conflict occurring early in childhood predicted and moderated behavioral transactions between young children and their mothers.
- mother–child relations