Economic Hardship During Infancy and U.S. Latino Preschoolers’ Sociobehavioral Health and Academic Readiness

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Abstract

We tested a culturally integrative model examining the associations among economic hardship during infancy and Latino children’s later sociobehavioral problems and academic skills prior to kindergarten entry, whether mothers’ mental health problems and positive parenting behaviors mediated those associations, and whether they varied by mothers’ acculturation levels. Participants were 714 low-income Latino mothers (M age at enrollment = 24 years; 82% Mexican American; 59% foreign-born) and children (M age at enrollment = 4 months; 53% boys) in the Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project (EHSREP). Data were gathered across five time points: when the families enrolled in the EHSREP, when the children were 14, 24, and 36 months of age, and just prior to their kindergarten entry. The results revealed an inverse relation between economic hardship during infancy and academic skills prior to kindergarten entry, with the association mediated through maternal mental health problems and positive parenting behaviors. The association between economic hardship and children’s sociobehavioral problems via maternal mental health problems and positive parenting behaviors, however, was not statistically significant. Instead, the positive relation between mothers’ mental health problems and children’s sociobehavioral problems was mediated by maternal positive parenting behaviors. The findings highlight key family processes by which economic hardship in infancy may be associated with Latino preschoolers’ academic skills prior to entering school.

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