Background: Mental disorders in childhood have a considerable health and societal impact but the associated negative consequences may be ameliorated through early identification of risk and protective factors that can guide health promoting and preventive interventions. The objective of this study was to inform health policy and practice through identification of demographic, familial and environmental factors associated with emotional or behavioural problems in middle childhood, and the predictors of resilience in the presence of identified risk factors.
Methods: A cohort of 706 mothers followed from early pregnancy was surveyed at six to eight years post-partum by a mail-out questionnaire, which included questions on demographics, children's health, development, activities, media and technology, family, friends, community, school life, and mother's health.
Results: Although most children do well in middle childhood, of 450 respondents (64% response rate), 29.5% and 25.6% of children were found to have internalising and externalising behaviour problem scores in the lowest quintile on the NSCLY Child Behaviour Scales. Independent predictors for problem behaviours identified through multivariable logistic regression modelling included being male, demographic risk, maternal mental health risk, poor parenting interactions, and low parenting morale. Among children at high risk for behaviour problems, protective factors included high maternal and child self-esteem, good maternal emotional health, adequate social support, good academic performance, and adequate quality parenting time.
Conclusions: These findings demonstrate that several individual and social resilience factors can counter the influence of early adversities on the likelihood of developing problem behaviours in middle childhood, thus informing enhanced public health interventions for this understudied life course phase.