Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Behavioral Competence and Academic Functioning among Early Elementary Children with Externalizing Problems

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Behavioral Competence and Academic Functioning among Early Elementary Children with Externalizing Problems

Article excerpt

Attempts to understand the relation between children's behavioral and academic functioning have been informed by at least two approaches. One approach has focused on behaviors that interfere with learning. For instance, research has shown that children's behavior problems, such as externalizing behaviors, are predictive of academic underachievement and underattainment (Bub, McCartney, & Willett, 2007; Fergusson & Horwood, 1998; Hinshaw, 1992). A second approach has focused on behaviors that promote children's learning and achievement. For example, children's behavioral competencies, such as prosocial skills, social responsibility, and study skills, are strong predictors of enhanced academic functioning (DiPerna, Volpe, & Elliott, 2002; Green, Forehand, Beck, & Vosk, 1980; Malecki & Elliott, 2002; McClelland, Acock, & Morrison, 2006; Wentzel, 1991). Whereas behavioral problems and competency often coexist in children's behavioral repertoires, they are often examined in isolation. Thus, how behavioral problems and competencies jointly operate to affect children's academic functioning has not been sufficiently examined.

The current research aims to draw these two approaches together by investigating how behavioral competence is related to academic functioning among a sample of early elementary school children who display externalizing problems. Externalizing problems are defined as undercontrolled behaviors often manifested as hyperactivity, aggression, disruptiveness, defiance, and impulsivity (Achenbach & Edelbrock, 1978; Bub et al., 2007). For children who display such behaviors, much emphasis has been placed on the negative effect of these behaviors on academic functioning that, in turn, has guided development of numerous intervention programs to address these issues (see Farmer, Compton, Burns, & Robertson, 2002). In contrast, our understanding of and interest in the role of behavioral competence in academic functioning among children with externalizing problems appears to be relatively limited. This is a notable gap, given growing evidence that the positive effect of competent behaviors on academic functioning may outweigh the negative effect of externalizing problems (Caprara, Barbaranelli, Pastorelli, Bandura, & Zimbardo, 2000; Malecki & Elliott, 2002; Wentzel, 1993). A shift of attention may be necessary from children's maladaptive behaviors that interfere with positive development and academic success to the competencies children may also possess that counteract the negative effects of their problematic behaviors. The early elementary years are a critical time during which children need to acquire a wide range of skills to adapt to the social and learning environments at school (Rimm-Kaufman, Curby, Grimm, Brock, & Nathanson, 2009). As such, understanding the role of behavioral competence in children's learning during this period may inform the direction of intervention efforts for children with externalizing problems.

Externalizing Problems and Academic Functioning

Children's externalizing problems have been the focus of much theory and research, in part because of the effect of such problems on children's long-term functioning. Although not all young children who demonstrate externalizing problems continue to do so as they age (Bub et al., 2007; Campbell, 2002), the within-child stability of such problems is noteworthy. In an examination of the trajectories of children's problematic behaviors between 24 months and first grade, children's externalizing problems, as compared to their internalizing problems, declined at a slower rate and were more stable over time (Bub et al., 2007). This stability appears to be present throughout adolescence, such that adolescents who display severe antisocial behaviors are often identified for behavioral concerns as early as the preschool years (Moffitt, 1990).

Given their stability, children's externalizing problems hold the potential to exert a sustained effect on children's academic functioning. …

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