Financial and Economic Stress on Parents Causes Behavior Problems in Children

WASHINGTONChildren who live in poverty are more likely to experience behavioral problems such as low self-esteem, lower levels of sociability and initiative, as well as aggression, hyperactivity and depression than children in families with greater financial resources. As the years in poverty increase, the child is more likely to experience sadness, anxiety and dependency. Externalizing behaviors, such as aggression, bullying and throwing tantrums also predict poor school performance and delinquency.

The study, published in the September issue of Social Work Research, a journal from the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), finds that parenting practices caused by stress, such as emotional unresponsiveness, inability to provide stimulating experiences, physical discipline and an unsafe home environment directly influence a childs socio-emotional adjustment.

The author of the study, Mary Keegan Eamon, MSW, extracted data from the mother-child data set of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY). This sample included 1,505 four- to five-year-old children.

Eamon found that single mothers, divorced mothers, never married mothers and those living with a partner are more likely to live in poverty than those married to a partner, according to the data. As poverty persists, children are more likely to live in a home that is unclean, unsafe, dark and dreary. Parenting behavior such as unresponsiveness, conveying negative feelings and lack of affection are all results of economic stress that is caused by poverty and results in childrens behavior problems.

Findings of this study, however, suggest several intervention, prevention and social policy implications. For example, mental health providers working with low-income children who exhibit behavior problems may find that assessing income history and parenting practices provide valuable information useful in choosing appropriate interventions.

According to Eamon, interventions could include assessing and treating parental depression, easing economic hardship by referrals to social service and community programs, and job training and employment. Helping young mothers access social support and providing education on appropriate practices may result in fewer child behavior problems. Educating parents on alternative, developmentally appropriate methods of child discipline also appears to be an appropriate prevention and intervention strategy.

Article: "A Structural Model of the Effects of Poverty on the Externalizing and Internalizing Behaviors of 4- to 5-year-old Children," Mary Keegan Eamon, MSW, Social Work Research, Vol. 24, No. 3.

Full text of the article is available from the NASW Public Affairs Office.

Mary Keegan Eamon can be reached at (217) 244-5238 or (262) 473-8054 or by email at
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