Maternal Factors Associated With Child Behavior

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Abstract

Background

Knowledge of the relative contributions of risk factors in predicting young children's behavior problems may provide insights for the development of preventive interventions.

Objective

The purpose of this cross-sectional study was to identify maternal predictors of children's internalizing and externalizing behaviors in a volunteer sample of 205 low-income, single mothers with children between 2 and 6 years of age.

Method

Data were collected on chronic stressors, self-esteem, negative thinking, depressive symptoms, and child behavior during in-home interviews with the mothers.

Results

Mothers' reports of internalizing and externalizing behaviors did not differ by sex or race of the child. Chronic stressors and depressive symptoms, in addition to control variables, explained 27% of the variability in internalizing behavior while these two variables accounted for 21% of the variability in externalizing behavior. For both internalizing and externalizing behavior, chronic stressors exerted the largest total effects. The effects of self-esteem and negative thinking were indirect, with the latter playing a stronger role. The indirect effect of negative thinking on child behavior was exerted through depressive symptoms, while self-esteem was linked with child behavior through both negative thinking and depressive symptoms.

Conclusions

Decreasing mothers' negative thinking, a variable amenable to intervention, may not only decrease a mother's depressive symptoms but also improve her perception of the child's behavior.

Clinical Relevance

Decreasing mothers' negative thinking may provide a way to reduce their depressive symptoms and result in fewer behavior problems among their young children. Nurses working in primary care and community-based settings are in key positions to address this problem and improve the mental health of low-income mothers and positively affect the behavior of their children.

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