The Effects of Psychological Distress, Work, and Family Stressors on Child Behavior Problems

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Each year, thousands of children experience behavior problems resulting from their environmental influences, school and peer interactions, home and family settings, or any combination of these situational occurrences. Regardless of developmental stage, problems experienced by children may influence their ability to transition to and through appropriate life stages and develop into healthy and socially functional adults. Decades of research on child behavior problems have included approaches that established what we know as the current body of knowledge on this subject area. Early studies on child behavior problems included cross-sectional studies that compared rates of childhood disturbance with demographic information about families (Christensen, Phillips, Glasgow, & Johnson, 1983; Dadds, Sanders, Morrison, & Rebgetz, 1992; Greenbaum, Dedrick, Friedman, Kutash, Brown, Lardieri, & Paugh, 1996). Observational studies that demonstrated functional relationships between child and parent behaviors were also a part of the early research in this area (Altmann & Gotlib, 1988; Gardner, 2000). Theoretical writings that integrated data in order to broaden the view about the nature and course of child and family behaviors emerged from these early studies and characterized the multiple components that affect the development and maintenance of childhood behaviors (Dadds, 1987; Greenberg, Speltz, & Deklyen, 1993; Piquero, Farrington, Welsh, Tremblay, & Jennings, 2009). These approaches also helped researchers and practitioners acquire information about the societal, political, and parental factors that influence child behavioral outcomes--particularly with regard to how parents' mental health affects child behavior outcomes.

Recent studies have focused on describing the influence of family factors on child behavioral outcomes, and one factor that has received considerable attention is the mental health of the parents. For example, studies have underscored associations between parental depression/anxiety and child behavior problems (Meadows, McLanahan, & Brooks-Gunn, 2007) as well as the link between maternal psychological distress, family income, marital conflict, parenting, and children's outcomes in early and middle childhood (Nievar & Luster, 2006). Among a diverse sample of primarily Black, White, and Hispanic parents, Meadows, McLanahan, and Brooks-Gunn (2007) reported a multiplicative association between parental mental illness and child behavior problems and identified differences among married versus cohabitating parents and resident versus nonresident fathers. The authors called for future studies that explore mechanisms by which parents' mental health predicts child behavior problems and the racial/ethnic differences that exist within this context. Applying McLoyd's (1990) family stress model, Nievar and Luster (2006) found racial/ethnic differences in martial conflict among African American and non-Latino White families; however, they did not examine the influence of psychological distress in their study. The aforementioned studies are evidence that, to date, there has been notable work on child behavior problems and parental mental health measures as well as the influence of marital conflict on child behavioral problems. Yet, what remains unexplored is the influence of psychological distress and work and family stressors (e.g., work/family balance, work hassles, and marital conflict) on child behavior problems. The present study seeks to fill a gap in this literature by examining the influence of sociodemographic variables, psychological distress, and work and family stressors on child behavior problems.

The Influence of Work and Family Stressors on Children

The functionality of the family as a collective unit has implications for child behavior problems. One example is the link between socioeconomic status (SES), parental mental health, and its influence on child behavior. …