Stressful Family Environments and Children’s Behavioral Control: A Multimethod Test and Replication Study With Twins

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Abstract

Young children’s behavioral control predicts a broad range of developmental outcomes in child- and adulthood. It is therefore important to study how individual differences in behavioral control arise. Previous studies suggest that there are both genetic and environmental influences, which were estimated in the current study using a sample of mono- and dizygotic same-sex twins. Furthermore, we examined the associations between indicators of a stressful family environment like household chaos, parenting daily hassles, and parental depressive symptoms and children’s behavioral control in 2 samples. Children of the same twin pair were randomly divided over 2 samples; a test (N = 201, 48.3% boys, M age 46.53 months) and replication sample (N = 201, 49.8% boys, M age 46.06 months). Both parents reported on their children’s effortful control via the Child Behavior Questionnaire and children’s cheating behavior was observed during a throwing game. We found that AE models fitted the data for effortful control (A = 31%, E = 69%) and cheating (A = 16%, E = 84%) best. Path analyses revealed that children of parents experiencing more parenting daily hassles and depressive symptoms had lower levels of effortful control in the test sample. Furthermore, we found that children growing up in more chaotic households (parent report) had an increased risk of being in the cheating group versus the possible intention to cheat group in the test sample. These results were partially replicated. We suggest that the role of stressful family environments in the development of behavioral control should be considered when setting up prevention and intervention programs targeting children’s behavioral control.

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