Methods: Symposium papers utilize a rich array of observational and parent report measures to assess parenting, parent and child characteristics, various aspects of the family environment, and child behavior. Each paper focuses on vulnerable children and families, including families of unmarried parents, families affected by substance use, and lower income, ethnic minority families. Two papers use longitudinal data that span the first five years of life, and all three use quantitative methods to analyze the data.
Results: A common finding across all three papers is that harsh/hostile parenting is highly related to child behavior problems, even after taking into account a variety of potentially confounding factors. Additionally, the two longitudinal papers demonstrate that harsh parenting in the first few years of life is associated with problem behaviors several years later. One paper will show that spanking remains a common practice among parents, and will identify characteristics of families who are more and less likely to spank. Two papers will discuss additional aspects of the family environment that are related to internalizing and externalizing behaviors, including maternal psychopathology, drug use, and family conflict.
Conclusion and Implications: Social workers who serve young children and their families in their homes, clinics, and schools are often confronted with child behavioral and emotional problems. The research presented in this symposium points to the importance of providing support to parents so that they are able to interact with their young children in warm and responsive ways, and engage in parenting practices that support their children's development. Following symposium papers, the discussant will talk about how this research matters for early childhood mental health practice, and offer expertise on current evidence based interventions designed to support parents in an effort to prevent the development of child behavior problems.