Abstract: (WITHDRAWN) Material Hardship in the Prediction of Child Internalizing Behaviors: Maternal Use of Physical Discipline and Verbal Aggression As Mediators (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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699P (WITHDRAWN) Material Hardship in the Prediction of Child Internalizing Behaviors: Maternal Use of Physical Discipline and Verbal Aggression As Mediators

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Yuerong Liu, Postdoctoral Associate, Duke University, Durham, NC
Darcey Merritt, PhD, Associate Professor, New York University, New York, NY
Background: Although previous research on the relationship between low levels of family income and child problem behaviors, as well as the processes at play in this relationship has been well established, the effect of material hardship on child adjustments and parent-related mechanisms has been investigated less often. Drawing upon the Family Stress Model, this study explores the influence of particular domains of material hardship on child internalizing behaviors as mediated by maternal psychological distress, parenting stress, and physical and verbal discipline over time through child age 3 to 15.

Methods: We used data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (N = 1,778). Of the 4,898 respondents interviewed at baseline, 1,778 mothers were interviewed at all the four waves (year 3, 5, 9 and 15) for primary caregivers’ follow-up surveys. Material hardships were measured using the Year 3 survey with primary caregivers’ reports on things they did in the past 12 months because there was not enough money. Four measures of hardship domains were created - difficulty paying bills, housing instability, food insufficiency and medical insecurity. Child internalizing problems at age 15 were assessed based on primary caregivers’ reports on the Child Behavior Checklist / 6-18. Ten items adapted from the Conflict Tactics Scale were completed by the primary caregivers reflecting the physical and verbal discipline constructs.

The queried mediation effects were analyzed using Structural Equation Model (SEM) in Mplus 8. Missing data were handled using full information maximum likelihood estimation (FIML). All the indirect effects were tested using bootstrap (1000 iterations).

Results: Descriptive analyses indicated mothers used more verbal aggression than physical discipline. Average scores for verbal and physical discipline were 17.91 (SD = 18.59, range of 0 - 108) and 6.44 (SD = 11.36, range of 0 - 100), respectively. The final model fit is good: χ2 (5) = 4.292, p = .508, CFI = 1.000, TLI = 1.017, RMSEA < .001 (90% confidence interval = 0 to .028), SRMR = .003. The effects of difficulty paying bills, housing instability, and food insufficiency on child internalizing behaviors were mediated by increased maternal depression, parenting stress, and the use of verbal aggression. Physical discipline did not emerge as a significant mediator, which is inconsistent with previous studies. This may be due to a lack of consensus on measurement, or the possibility that parental use of physical discipline accelerates children’s habituation to pain and fear, placing children at greater risk for involvement in violent and rule-breaking behaviors instead of internalizing behaviors.

Conclusion and implications: The findings highlight the negative role of verbal aggression as related to the association of material hardship and child internalizing behavior. Although child protective agencies and practitioners are most concerned about the prevention of physical and sexual abuse, the consequences of verbal abuse should not be underestimated when evaluating the welfare of children. Practitioners should screen for specific forms of material hardship, such as food insufficiency and housing instability as potential risks for parental verbal aggression and child internalizing problems.