CONTEXT. Witnessing domestic violence increases a child's chance of emotional or behavioral problems during childhood and entering abusive relationships in adulthood, even without co-occurring child maltreatment.
OBJECTIVE. Our goals were to estimate the prevalence of reported violent disagreements in the homes of US children and to assess prevalence differences by race/ethnicity, residence, and reported parenting stress.
PATIENTS AND METHODS. Data were drawn from the 2003 National Survey of Children's Health. Case subjects with unknown gender, race/ethnicity, or residence were excluded, yielding 99660 observations. Disagreements were classified on the basis of how the family deals with serious disagreement. If disagreements involved hitting or throwing, even rarely, the household was categorized as having violent disagreements. Households reporting heated argument and shouting were classified as having heated disagreement.
RESULTS. Nationally, 10.3% of children lived in homes with reported violent disagreements. Violent disagreements were most prevalent among black households (15.1%), followed by “other” (12.1%), Hispanic (11.3%), and white (8.6%) households. Urban areas had higher prevalence (10.7%) than did small through large rural counties (8.3%–9.9%). In multinomial logistic analysis, parents living in rural counties were less likely to report violent disagreements compared with those in urban. Black children were more likely to be exposed to both violent and heated disagreements than were white children. Parents reporting high parenting stress had higher odds of violent and heated disagreement than parents reporting less stress.
CONCLUSIONS. A substantial number of children are exposed to violent disagreement. Although demographic and cultural factors may also influence disagreement style, parental stress seems instrumental in the development of violent disagreements. Parents who experience difficulty with parenting constitute a high-risk population. Helping parents understand and address child behavior may reduce such stress.