Parents’ Relationship Quality and Children’s Externalizing Problems: The Moderating Role of Mother–Child Relations and Family Socio-demographic Background

Abstract

This study investigates the extent to which parents’ relationship quality affects children’s externalizing problems and whether the quality of the mother–child relationship and the family socio-demographic background moderate this association. We use data from a nationally representative sample of UK children (the Millennium Cohort Study) and OLS regressions models. We find that parents’ relationship quality is clearly related to children’s externalizing problems at ages 3 and 5 years and that the quality of mother–child relationships explains a substantial part of this association. Notably, a reported warm relationship with the mother does not reduce the detrimental effect of poor parental relationship problems, whereas a conflictual relationship exacerbates it. The effect of parents’ relationship quality is the same for children from different ethnic and marital status backgrounds, as well as for mother’s education and child’s gender, but is greatest amongst poorer children. At age 5, poor children with the lowest level of parents’ relationship quality have an externalizing score of 7.21 while poor children with the highest level have a score of 4.16; a 3 point difference. In contrast, among rich children, those with the lowest level of parent relationship quality have an externalizing score of 6.16 while those with the highest level have a score of 4.01; a difference of 2.15 points. These findings suggest that policies and intervention programs that promote parents’ relationship quality are likely to be beneficial for children from different family contexts, but especially for those from poor families.

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Funding

This study was funded by Postdoctoral Program 2012 of Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (CSO2015-69439-R) and by Abat Oliba University and “La Caixa” Foundation (project PROFAM).

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Garriga, A., Martínez-Lucena, J. & Moreno, A. Parents’ Relationship Quality and Children’s Externalizing Problems: The Moderating Role of Mother–Child Relations and Family Socio-demographic Background. Child Adolesc Soc Work J 36, 137–154 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10560-018-0558-0

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Keywords

  • Parents’ relationship quality
  • Maternal representations of mother–child relationship
  • Family socio-demographic background
  • Children’s externalizing problems
  • UK Millennium Cohort Study