Emotion regulation and behaviour problems in young children exposed to domestic violence
Although the effects of witnessing domestic violence on young children were long believed to be non-existent, current research indicates that young children do suffer negative consequences as a result of witnessing violence (e.g., Zeanah, et al., 1999). From research with older children it is known that exposure to violence is associated with emotional dysregulation, behaviour problems, and difficulties in school (e.g., Wolfe et al., 2003). Risk factors (e.g., maternal depression) and protective factors (e.g., secure attachment relationship) have been implicated in both emotional regulatory abilities and the effects of exposure to domestic violence. The present research endeavoured to use a developmental psychopathology perspective to understand the experiences of young children exposed to domestic violence, specifically their emotion regulation abilities and behaviour problems. Study 1 explored the application and reliability of an emotion regulation coding scheme for use with young children during the Face-to-Face Still Face scenario. Study 2 examined the relationship between previous exposure to domestic violence and behaviour problems and emotion regulation, while considering possible moderating variables. The coding system from Study 1 served as the measure of emotion regulation in Study 2. Findings indicated that young children in this study who had been exposed to increased levels of domestic violence also displayed increased internalizing behaviour problems. No relationship was found between exposure to domestic violence and emotion regulation or externalizing problems or sleep problems. Child temperament, attachment security and maternal psychological symptomology were associated with behaviour problems in these children. Maternal psychological symptomology was marginally related to emotion regulation, however temperament and attachment security were not. The relationship between exposure to physical aggression and externalizing behaviour problems was moderated by child temperament and attachment security. The relationship between physical aggression and internalizing behaviour problems was moderated by attachment security. The implications of these findings for future research and clinical practice are discussed. Taken together, these two studies expanded the existing literature on the adjustment outcomes associated with exposure to domestic violence in young children.
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
CommitteeMartin, Stephanie; Hay, Deborah; Farthing, Gerald; Reebye, Pratibha
exposure to domestic violence