It is not known whether alterations to temperamental characteristics associated with prenatal maternal stress (PNMS) exposure account for the development of childhood anxiety symptomatology (internalizing behaviors and anxiety symptoms). The QF2011 Queensland flood study examined whether (1) toddler temperamental characteristics explained the association between PNMS exposure and childhood anxiety symptomatology; and (2) whether effects were dependent upon child sex or the timing of gestational exposure to PNMS. We investigated the effects of various aspects of flood-related stress in pregnancy (objective hardship, cognitive appraisal, subjective distress) on maternal report of 16-month toddler temperament (attentional control, shy-inhibition, negative reactivity), 4-year maternal-reported childhood anxiety symptomatology (internalizing and anxiety symptoms; N = 104), and teacher reports of internalizing behaviors (N = 77). Severity of maternal objective hardship during pregnancy and shy-inhibited behaviors were uniquely associated with 4-year child anxiety symptoms. Mediation analyses found that higher levels of 16-month negative reactivity accounted, in part, for the relationship between increased maternal objective flood-related hardship and greater internalizing behaviors (maternal but not teacher report). Neither child sex nor gestational timing of exposure moderated the hypothesized mediations. Our findings highlight several pathways through which varying aspects of disaster-related PNMS may influence early childhood anxiety symptomatology.
Keywords: childhood anxiety; internalizing behaviors; natural disasters; prenatal stress; temperament characteristics; toddlerhood.