Difficult temperament, family environment, and child behavioral symptoms

Denise Gonzalez Mari, Fordham University


The present study was designed to test aspects of a family systems paradigm for the development of child behavioral problems by examining how family environmental risk domains relate to child temperament difficulty and child symptoms. It was predicted that the relationship between child difficulty and maternal dissatisfaction, marital maladjustment, negative child impact of total and marital life events and child behavioral problems would be positive. It was also expected that maternal dissatisfaction and poor marital adjustment would directly relate to child symptoms. Furthermore, it was hypothesized that negative child impact of total and marital events would be correlated positively with preschool symptoms. A secondary purpose of the research was to demonstrate the theoretical utility of a family systems approach for guiding research on child behavioral problems. Thirty-four volunteer mothers of 3-year-old firstborn children who were full-term and healthy at birth participated. Child and family variables were assessed via measures administered by telephone (Behavioral Screening Questionnaire, PERI-Parental Satisfaction Scale and PERI-Life Event Inventory) and mail survey (Behavioral Style Questionnaire, Dyadic Adjustment Scale). The hypotheses associating child difficulty, maternal dissatisfaction and stressful impact of marital events on children with behavioral symptoms were supported. Contrary to expectations, correlations between difficulty and maternal dissatisfaction, lower dyadic adjustment and higher negative child impact of total or marital events were not significant. The results of the hypotheses that investigated the relationship between lower marital adjustment and higher child symptoms as well as negative child impact of total life events and child behavioral symptoms were additionally not confirmed. The findings that both temperament and family situational stressors (maternal and marital event) were linked to child behavioral adjustment suggest the usefulness of an integrated child developmental and family systems theoretical framework for conducting child symptom research. However, the present study's implications were limited by the small sample size, exclusive use of maternal reports and the reliance on a single outcome measure of child adjustment. Future research needs to explore the impact of high-risk fathering of young children and examine child response to different life event subsets such as childbearing events or family illness.

Subject Area

Psychotherapy|Developmental psychology

Recommended Citation

Mari, Denise Gonzalez, "Difficult temperament, family environment, and child behavioral symptoms" (1991). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9118838.