Mother-Child Conflict: A Developmental Perspective

by Alexandra Timi Leigh Horne

Institution: University of Otago
Year: 0
Keywords: mother-child conflict; parent-child conflict; conflict; conflict-assessment; laboratory; self-report measure; observational measure; developmental perspective; New Zealand; fMORI; Asch paradigm; methods; wellbeing; outcomes
Record ID: 1315733
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10523/5084


There is a popular assumption that parent-child conflict leads to exclusively negative consequences for children and adolescents. Although it is certainly the case that destructive conflict interactions are associated with a host of negative outcomes for children and adolescents; constructive conflict interactions can actually have a positive influence on children’s development and future wellbeing. Given its importance for development, researchers have developed a number of methods to study parent-child conflict in the laboratory: self-report measures and observational measures. While the use of both of these methods has provided answers to many important questions about parent-child conflict, there are a number of gaps in the knowledge base that significantly limit our current understanding of parent-child conflict. First, researchers have failed to use self-report methods to systematically compare parent-child conflict across age groups that represent different developmental milestones, resulting in the lack of a developmental perspective in the extant data. Second, the data collected to date comes almost exclusively from studies conducted with populations in North America, raising questions about their generalisability to families in other parts of the world. Third, there are no data on the conflict process, per se. Here, a total of 90 mother-child dyads took part in a series of methods that were designed to describe parent-child conflict within a New Zealand sample. There were three distinct age groups of children (i.e., 6-year-olds, 11-year-olds, and 16-year-olds). These age groups encapsulated the developmental period between early childhood and late adolescence. First, parents and children completed a broad, relatively informal assessment that allowed the dyads to describe their experiences of conflict in their own words. The types of issues that the dyads reported varied as function of the age of the child; the two younger age groups typically reported conflict that involved child misbehaviour, whereas the older age group typically reported boundary-related issues. Three-quarters of the conflicts that the dyads described were resolved, although there was an age-related decrease in conflict resolution. Nonetheless, the majority of conflicts were resolved with a positive conflict-resolution strategy. Second, parents and children completed a standardised self-report measure that was designed to systematically evaluate the range of, and extent to which, different issues led to conflict between mothers and their children. Dyads in the 11-year-old age group indicated that they fought about a greater number of issues, relative to their 16- and 6-year-old counterparts; the 6-year-old children rated their conflicts as more intense. Finally, parents and children took part in an experimental task that was designed to generate conflict in the laboratory. The task generated plausible conflict that lead to considerable debate between mothers and children in all three age groups and provided the opportunity to examine…