The relationship between family environment and internalizing and externalizing childhood behavior problems

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Virginia Tech

In spite of the high prevalence of internalizing and externalizing disorders in children, little research has been conducted to directly assess risk factors associated with the development of these disorders. Among other influences, it has been suggested that the expression of childhood psychopathology may be related to family socialization practices. This study uses Olson's circumplex model of marital and family systems to test the relationship between family environment and the internalizing and externalizing domains of childhood psychopathology. It was hypothesized that children with internalizing behavior problems come from families that are high in cohesion (i.e., enmeshed) and low in flexibility (i.e., rigid and structured). Furthermore, it was predicted that these families are low in level of expressed conflict and have poor communication levels within the family. Families o(children with externalizing behavior problems, on the other hand, were hypothesized to be low in cohesion (i.e., disengaged), and to be either high or low in flexibility (i.e., rigid or chaotic). They were predicted to openly express high levels of conflict within the family, but generally have poor communication skills. These hypotheses were tested using Achenbach's Child Behavior Checklist to assign children between the ages of 7 and 11 to internalizing (n = 9) and externalizing (n = 10) groups and using an objective observational measure and several self-report measures to evaluate the families along the dimensions of the circumplex model. Results failed to confirm these hypotheses, however, they were suggestive of a link between family environment and nature and severity of childhood behavior problems.

child psychopathology