Children's Appraisals as Mediators of the Relationship between Domestic Violence and Child Adjustment

Article excerpt

This study examines the relationships among variables that were likely to mediate the effects of exposure to domestic violence on children's internalizing problems (i.e., children's appraisals of domestic violence and their perceptions of family relationships). The study was conducted with 79 children exposed to domestic violence, including 41 boys and 38 girls, aged between 9 and 12 years old. Indicators used for children's appraisals of violence were attribution of blame and perceived threat. Children's perceptions of family relationships were based on their levels of parentification and the degree of their loyalty conflicts. A path analysis was used to verify the predictive model's pathways and to test the multiple mediator effects. Findings confirm the contribution of mediating variables and also reflect the association between self-blame and children's parentification. The results stress the relevance of evaluating the combined role of different potential mediators to provide a better understanding of the impact of domestic violence on children.

Keywords: child adjustment; domestic violence; conflict appraisal; parentification; lo yalty conflicts

Many children are exposed to domestic violence. In the United States, 15.5 million children are exposed to domestic violence, 7 million of them are witnessing severe violence episodes (McDonald, Jouriles, Ramisetty-Mikler, Caetano, & Green, 2006). In Canada, close to 10% of children are exposed to this type of violence (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2001; Jaffe & Poisson, 2000). Exposure to domestic violence is considered as the most common form of psychological maltreatment registered in Canadian child protection agencies (Trocmé et al., 2005). Over the past 2 decades, studies have shown that domestic violence has harmful effects on children. Researchers have also underlined the potential influence of mediators between exposure to domestic violence and child adjustment. However, few studies have focused on the relationships between mediating variables and their unique contribution to child adaptation. This study will look specifically at the relationships between variables that are likely to be mediators of the effects of exposure to domestic violence on children's adjustment problems, that is, children's appraisals of domestic violence and their perception of family relationships.


Exposure to domestic violence does not affect all children in similar ways or to the same extent. However, many of them exhibit physical and mental health problems, deficits in social skills, as well as cognitive and academic difficulties (Evans, Davies, & DiLillo, 2008; Ghazarian & Buehler, 2008; Kitzmann, Gaylord, Holt, & Kenny, 2003; Wolfe, Crooks, Lee, McIntyre-Smith, & Jaffe, 2003). Child adjustment problems most often studied are internalizing problems such as anxiety and depression, externalizing problems such as aggressive behavior, hyperactivity and delinquency, and posttraumatic stress disorder.

Mediating Variables Between Domestic Violence and Child Adjustment

Children's appraisals of domestic violence and children's perceptions of their family relationships are the variables reported to mediate the relationship between domestic violence and child adjustment. Research on children's appraisals of domestic violence has been guided by Grych and Fincham's (1990) cognitive-contextual model. According to this model, children respond actively to interparental conflicts; they try to interpret the meaning of the conflict and try to identify the role they might have played in the conflict's outbreak or in its resolution. Studies have shown that when children blame themselves for such conflict or perceive it as a threat, they exhibit more adjustment problems (Fosco & Grych, 2008; Gerard, Buehler, Franck, & Anderson, 2005; Grych & Fincham, 1993). Similar results were found among children exposed to severe interparental conflicts involving violence. …