Behaviour problems in preschool aged children
Hedayati, Laura K.
This study examined the occurrence of behavioural difficulties in a community sample of 128 preschoolers aged between 30 and 59 months. To obtain a comprehensive picture of children's behaviours in different situational contexts, the functioning of children was assessed using a multimethod (questionnaire, observation), multi-informant (parent, teacher, clinician) approach. At each assessment stage, parent and teacher report was obtained through child behaviour questionnaires. In addition, direct clinical observation was employed to evaluate the children's behaviours during a semi-structured clinical interview attended by both parents and children. After the initial Screening Stage, children were reassessed at 1 month (n = 128), 11 months (n = 115) and 21 months (n = 101). The short term longitudinal component of the study enabled the natural course and temporal stability of problem behaviours to be documented. In addition, the longitudinal aspect of the study provided information to determine which child and family characteristics were important in the prediction of children's behavioural outcome. ·On the basis of informant report, children were categorised into problem and non-problem groups. The child, parent and family factors associated with the occurrence, pervasiveness and persistence of problematic behaviours were investigated. Results demonstrated that parent, teacher, and clinician reported behavioural problems were common during the preschool years. Over the 21 months of assessment, most of the children's behavioural difficulties were transient and developmentally linked. However, a core group of children emerged who showed both pervasive and persistent behavioural difficulties at each assessment stage. Children who had more severe behavioural problems were more likely to come from families experiencing a constellation of adverse demographic and family characteristics. Specifically, children with a greater degree of behavioural difficulties had a higher chance of living in a single parent family, with separated or divorced parents. They were more likely to have parents with lower academic qualifications, who were employed in lower status occupational classes with lower family income. Furthermore, children with more severe behavioural difficulties were likely to come from families experiencing greater life event stressors, with less effective family functioning and greater maternal psychological distress. The results showed that pervasiveness of problem behaviours was associated with greater severity of behaviour difficulty across all three assessment stages. Persistence of problematic behaviours was related to family adversity. Children who were persistently identified as showing behavioural difficulties across three assessment stages were more likely to be living in single parent homes, with separated or divorced parents, who had less functional parental discipline strategies. In addition, their fathers were likely to be employed in lower status occupational classes with lower family incomes. Examination of the child and family variables thought important in determining children's later behavioural ratings indicated that the children's initial problem behaviour level was the single most important variable in predicting later behavioural scores, with family functioning also contributing additional variance. Taken together the findings from the present research suggest that it is possible to identify children drawn from a community sample at risk for developing early and persistent patterns of behavioural problems prior to school entry. To determine children at risk of poorer behavioural outcome, examination of a combination of child, parent and family factors seems most important.
Advisor: Tripp, Gail
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Psychology
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Thesis