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Family process and child anxiety and aggression: An observational analysis

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Barrett, Rapee, Dadds, and Ryan (1996) described a phenomenon whereby family discussions magnified the style of children's problem solving in a way characteristic of their particular clinical diagnosis. That is, anxious children became more avoidant, aggressive children more aggressive, and nonclinic children more prosocial, after discussing ambiguous hypothetical situations with their parents. This study examined specific sequences of communications exchanged between parents and children hypothesized to underlie this family exacerbation of child cognitive style. Family discussions were videotaped and categorized for groups of anxious, aggressive, and nonclinic children and their parents. Results revealed differences between groups of parents in frequency of agreeing with and listening to their child and the frequency of pointing out positive consequences. Conditional probability analyses showed that parents of anxious children were more likely to reciprocate avoidance, while parents of nonclinic children were more likely to agree with and listen to prosocial plans from their child. Differences in parent behaviors observed during the family discussions were reliably associated with the child's response to the ambiguous situation proposed after the family discussion. Results support a model of developmental anxiety and aggression that emphasizes the interaction of family processes and social-cognitive development in the child.

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This research was supported by grants from The National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, The University of Queensland, and The Myer Foundation of Australia.

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Dadds, M.R., Barrett, P.M., Rapee, R.M. et al. Family process and child anxiety and aggression: An observational analysis. J Abnorm Child Psychol 24, 715–734 (1996).

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