A moderational model investigating child temperament, executive functioning, and contextual predictors of externalizing behaviors in preschoolers

Ferne Arlene Pinard

Abstract

Child externalizing behavioral problems (e.g., ADHD symptoms and aggressive behaviors) often appear early in life, are relatively stable, and are associated with maladaptive outcomes in many domains of functioning. Research has shown that, for a subset of children who demonstrate these early behavioral patterns, the course is often more pervasive and persistent. Consequently, a better understanding of externalizing behavioral problems during the preschool period is essential. The current study examined whether biologically-based correlates (i.e., child temperament and executive functioning/neurocognitive attention; EF/Attention) would moderate the relation between the contextual correlates (i.e., socioeconomic status and parenting practices) and externalizing behaviors (i.e., ADHD symptoms and aggressive behaviors) in a community sample of 138 preschoolers, approximately half of which attended Head Start. Contrary to prediction, socioeconomic status (SES) was not related to child externalizing behaviors. However, consistent with the hypotheses, more negative parenting practices, as well as higher levels of problematic child temperament dimensions and poor EF/Attention, were related to higher levels of externalizing behaviors. Additionally, the results provided partial support for the hypothesis that biologically-based characteristics would moderate the relation both between SES and child behavior problems and between negative parental practices and child behavior problems. That is, difficult temperament or poor EF/Attention served as a risk factor for externalizing behaviors among children. Early identification of the correlates of externalizing behaviors in preschoolers--particularly in complex models considering multiple factors--is an important first step in recognizing children who might be at-risk for these maladaptive behaviors and can facilitate the development and implementation of preventative care.