Risk And Resilience Factor’s Relation To Internalizing And Externalizing Symptoms In Early Childhood

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Risk And Resilience Factor’s Relation To Internalizing And Externalizing Symptoms In Early Childhood

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2023

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A child’s mental health relies on a network of interacting systems both within and outside of the developing child. Positive and negative influences accumulate and dynamically interact to shape lifelong trajectories of mental health. Yet, most research has taken a deficit-focused approach, by concentrating on the effects of cumulative risks that contribute to mental health difficulties with little attention to the cumulative effects of positive influences that nurture children’s mental health. My dissertation includes two studies that leveraged advanced statistical methods to characterize how positive influences accumulate alongside sociodemographic risk and negative life events to affect young children’s mental health. Data were drawn from the Family Life Project (FLP), which is a longitudinal study of 1,292 children from rural, high-poverty regions of Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Families were oversampled for low income (190% of the federal poverty threshold on average) and Black race (n = 571). All data were collected via parent report and behavioral observation from the 6- to 90-month-old visits. Study one focused on how to assure the most accurate measurement of promotive and protective systems as well as early childhood mental health symptoms for a population of children experiencing rural poverty. The results underscored the importance of considering measurement invariance when evaluating various latent constructs within economically and racially diverse populations. Further, in study one I found that the accumulation of positive influences was best described by a model with two distinct and unrelated dimensions: 1) promotive and protective factors that directly impact the parent, and 2) promotive and protective factors that directly impact the child. Study two then aimed to evaluate within- and between-child variation in mental health symptoms as they related to the experience of negative life events. I assessed how SES and cumulative positive early childhood experiences impacted the relation between negative life events and child mental health. Study two results suggested that a child’s experience of negatively endorsed life events and socioeconomic risk are related to internalizing and externalizing symptoms in early childhood. Analyses also supported the hypothesis that promotive and protective systems were related to fewer internalizing and externalizing symptoms in the same time period. This dissertation underscored the importance of considering both positive and negative influences on early childhood mental health symptoms. Further, it supported the need for future research that evaluates these processes at smaller time scales and considers more dynamic interactions between positive and negative influences on the development of children’s mental health symptoms.

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University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. ---2023. Major: Child Psychology. Advisors: Ann Masten, Daniel Berry. 1 computer file (PDF); xi, 176 pages.

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Palmer, Alyssa. (2023). Risk And Resilience Factor’s Relation To Internalizing And Externalizing Symptoms In Early Childhood. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy, https://hdl.handle.net/11299/259628.

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