Predicting children's externalizing symptoms from dyadic and triadic measures of family systems
According to Family Systems Theory, the whole family system is greater than the sum of its parts. The purpose of this study is to investigate this claim by examining marital, parent-child, and triadic (mother-father-child) interactions as simultaneous predictors of children's externalizing symptoms. Longitudinal data from 108 families were used to investigate three hypotheses: 1) parents' negative responses to their toddlers' negative emotions will predict their children's later externalizing symptoms, 2) marital negativity will relate to both mothers and fathers displaying more negative patterns of emotional socialization, and 3) competitive coparenting -- assessed in triadic family interactions during toddlerhood (age 24 months) -- will predict children's later externalizing symptoms at age 7, after accounting for the effects of significant dyadic family interactions (specifically, mothers' and fathers' emotional socialization assessed at 24 months). Results demonstrated spillover from marital negativity to mothers’ negative emotion socialization. Competitive coparenting predicted children's later emotion socialization after controlling for infant temperament, family income, child gender, and dyadic predictors of children's externalizing symptoms; mothers' negative emotional socialization also remained a significant predictor. This study emphasizes the importance of examining the family holistically and has important implications for designing more effective whole-family interventions to reduce the development of children’s externalizing symptoms.