Trajectories of Family Instability and Disruptive Behaviors Across Early Childhood: A Prospective Study of At-Risk Families

Author: ORCID icon
Womack, Sean, Psychology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Wilson, Melvin, Psychology, University of Virginia

Economically marginalized families are at a particularly high risk to experience instability in the form of residential mobility, family structure instability, and incarceration of parenting figures. Previous research has linked instability in early childhood to later behavior problems, but little is known about the longitudinal relationship between instability and behavior problems. The present study uses data from 731 families recruited to be at high risk for child behavior problems on the basis of socioeconomic disadvantage, family problems, and child behaviors. Parents reported on residential mobility, family structure instability, incarceration of adults in the home, and child behavior problems at child age 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7.5. A bivariate growth curve model was fit to model the growth of instability and externalizing behaviors. Both instability and externalizing behaviors were found to decline over time. However, instability between birth and 2 predicted higher levels of externalizing behaviors at age 2 and the change in instability over time positively predicted the change in externalizing behaviors over time. The findings from the present study have implications for mental health professionals seeking to intervene on behavior problems at the family level as well as policy makers who are making decisions at the community level.

MA (Master of Arts)
Family Instability, Disruptive Behaviors, Child Development
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