Posted on January 22, 2024 by childrenslearninginstitute
January 22, 2024
Both transactional and common etiological models have been proposed as explanations of why externalizing behavior problems (EBP) and internalizing behavior problems (IBP) co-occur in children. Yet little research has empirically evaluated these competing theoretical explanations. We examined whether EBP and IBP are transactionally related at the within-child level while also identifying antecedents commonly associated with between-child differences in underlying stability of both EBP and IBP across elementary school.
We analyzed a nationally representative and longitudinal sample of US schoolchildren (N = 7,326; 51% male) using random-intercept cross-lagged panel modeling (RI-CLPM). We used teacher ratings of EBP and IBP as annually assessed from the spring of kindergarten (Mage = 6.12 years) through the spring of 5th grade (Mage = 11.09 years). Early childhood antecedents included child internal (i.e. inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility, working memory, and language/literacy) and external factors (i.e. parental warmth, harsh parenting, parenting stress, and maternal depressive symptoms).
We found little evidence for within-child, transactional relations between EBP and IBP. Both types of behavior problems instead were substantially associated at the between-child level. Inhibitory control was the strongest common antecedent that explained this longitudinal overlap. Cognitive flexibility, working memory, language/literacy skills, and maternal depression contributed specifically to the stability of IBP. Measures of parenting were specific to the stability of EBP.
Common etiological factors rather than transactional relations better explain the co-occurrence of EBP and IBP during elementary school. Inhibitory control is a promising target of early intervention efforts for schoolchildren at risk of displaying both EBP and IBP.
The research reported here was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant R324A200184 to the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of the Institute or the U.S. Department of Education. The authors have declared that they have no competing or potential conflicts of interest.
Oh, Y., Morgan, P.L., Greenberg, M.T., Zucker, T.A. and Landry, S.H. (2024), Between- and within-child level associations between externalizing and internalizing behavior problems in a nationally representative sample of US elementary school children. J Child Psychol Psychiatr. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.13950