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Pathways to Early Childhood Internalizing Problems: The Role of the Family Environment
Internalizing problems emerging during early childhood are associated with future difficulties in academic achievement, deficits in social and peer relations, and risk for psychopathology throughout the lifespan. Yet, relative to other forms of dysfunction such as externalizing problems, the early developmental pathways leading to internalizing problems have received less attention. The present study aimed to identify family pathways that unfold during pregnancy and the highly sensitive period of infancy that ultimately impact internalizing problems during early childhood, and to examine the differential effects of these pathways for children with varying degrees of temperamental fearfulness. To accomplish this objective, the dyadic construct of mutually responsive orientation (MRO) was observed in the interparental relationship during pregnancy and in both mother-infant and father-infant relationships as predictors of child internalizing problems at age 2. Findings revealed a significant direct effect of observed prenatal interparental MRO on father-infant and mother-infant MRO. Contrary to hypotheses, interparental and parent-infant MRO were not associated with internalizing problems under any level of temperamental fearfulness. Notably, few children exhibited clinically significant internalizing problems and, thus, broad socioemotional difficulties—which confer risk for the development of internalizing problems—were also examined. Results demonstrated an indirect effect of prenatal interparental MRO on early emotional and socio-behavioral competencies via father-infant MRO. Taken together, findings suggest a dyadic, underlying quality of the interparental relationship—mutually responsive orientation—sets the stage for optimal functioning in the parent-infant relationship and mitigates risk for socioemotional difficulties. Further, results underscore the importance of integrating fathers into prevention and intervention efforts when they are part of the family system.
Clinical psychology|Psychology|Obstetrics|Social psychology
Ramsdell, Erin L, "Pathways to Early Childhood Internalizing Problems: The Role of the Family Environment" (2023). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI30569748.