More than Mental Health: Parent Physical Health and Early Childhood Behavior Problems

J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2020 May;41(4):265-271. doi: 10.1097/DBP.0000000000000755.


Objective: Caring for young children is a physically demanding task, and some evidence suggests parental physical limitations may impact the parent-child relationship and child behavioral development, but research examining this dynamic is nascent.

Methods: This study aims to explicate the role of general parent physical health problems in child disruptive behavior outcomes. A model that included physical and mental health, parenting style and self-efficacy, and child behavior symptom ratings was derived. The tenability of the model was assessed using Pearson's correlations, followed by structural equation modeling using data from 375 parents with a child between 18 months and 5 years.

Results: After several modifications to the initial model, findings revealed that higher levels of parent self-reported physical and mental health concerns indirectly influence child behavior symptoms through different pathways. Impaired parent physical health was associated with poorer parental self-efficacy and more disruptive child behavior, whereas increased parent mental health concerns were associated with a more negative parenting style and lower self-efficacy, which was related to more child behavior symptoms.

Conclusion: Findings elucidate the need for increased awareness and screening of parent physical health limitations in pediatric primary care. Furthermore, appropriate interventions among parents with physical health problems may target different aspects of parenting than routinely discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention Deficit and Disruptive Behavior Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Child Behavior Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Child of Impaired Parents / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Models, Statistical
  • Parenting*
  • Parents*
  • Problem Behavior*
  • Self Efficacy*
  • United States / epidemiology