Children’s emotional and behavioral reactions to interparental aggression: The role of exposure to within-incident, cross-dyad aggression spillover.

Despite children’s frequent exposure to psychological and physical intimate partner aggression (IPA) and associated long-term consequences, little is known about children’s immediate, within-incident reactions to IPA. Additionally, differences in reactions to IPA based on exposure to within-incident “spillover” of aggression across interparental and parent—child dyads have previously remained unexamined. Parents of children age 2.5 years at study commencement (N = 203 from 111 families) reported on incidents of family aggression four times for 1 year. Among select IPA incidents with the child present (n = 163 incidents from 73 families), IPA severity and children’s exposure to aggression spillover were uniquely associated with children’s expression of greater fear. Moreover, children unexposed to spillover experienced high fear only during relatively severe IPA incidents, whereas spillover-exposed children experienced high fear regardless of IPA severity (supporting observations of fear reactivity in response to low-level threats). Additionally, IPA severity positively predicted, and spillover exposure negatively predicted, children’s attempts to make peace or solve the problem for their parents. Further, spillover-exposed children were more likely to withdraw or attempt to make peace during relatively more severe incidents of IPA. Thus, spillover-exposed children may manage their fear during relatively severe IPA incidents by withdrawing and/or engaging in active peacemaking behaviors but not by using other methods that may increase risk of aggression turning toward them. These results extend existing research, illustrate the unique predictive value of within-incident aggression spillover, and provide a foundation for understanding mechanisms through which IPA affects children in a diversity of ways. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)