Children of mothers with adverse childhood experiences show more disruptive behavior

Photo: Gerry Thomasen. Creative Commons.

Researchers have found a link between a mother’s report of her own adverse childhood experiences and increasing disruptive behavior on the part of her own child up to the age of 4½ years—and marital conflict may be the pathway between the two.

The study reinforces the idea that in developing supports for parents we need to consider their own childhood experiences.

The study found two distinct correlations. The first was between a mother’s report of her own adverse childhood experiences and a high and increasing level of conflict with the father over the first 4½ years of their child’s life. The second correlation was between this increasing conflict and the child’s increasingly disruptive behavior over the same period.

The researchers, led by Sheri Madigan at the University of Calgary in Canada, studied 469 families, running measurements four times during the first 4½ years of the child’s life. They divided parents into three groups: “high increasing” conflict (22%), “high decreasing” conflict (7%) and “low stable” conflict (71%). They asked mothers about childhood experiences such as household conflict, drugs, alcohol, sexual and physical abuse and parental imprisonment.

Madigan S, Plamondon A & Jenkins JM (2016), Marital conflict trajectories and associations with children’s disruptive behavior, Journal of Marriage and Family