Social Skills and Behavior Problems of African American Head Start Preschoolers: Role of Parenting, Informal Social Support and Children's Exposure to Family Conflict and Community Violence
Oravecz, Linda Marie
Koblinsky, Sally A
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In recent decades, urban African American families have faced an increasing number of environmental and familial stressors, including exposure to family conflict and community violence. African American children are disproportionately likely to encounter such violence, especially at the community level, because they are more likely to reside in poor families within the inner-city than children from other racial/ethnic groups. While many children who experience such stressors display harmful effects, many others exhibit socially competent behavior. Both family and community level variables may help to protect children from the negative effects of violence, such as the presence of nurturant, consistent parenting and the availability of social support from family and friends. The purpose of this study was to examine factors that might increase the resilience of African American preschoolers in urban neighborhoods by examining the role of two potential protective factors, positive parenting and informal social support, and two potential risk factors, direct exposure to family conflict and community violence, in predicting the children's social skills and behavior problems. Study participants were 223 African American mothers and other female caregivers who had a three- to five-year old preschool child enrolled in a Head Start center in the Washington DC area. Descriptive statistics were computed for maternal, familial, and child measures, and a correlation matrix examined the relationships between all variables. Stepwise multiple regression analyses were used to investigate the relative strength of the independent variables (parenting, social support, family conflict, community violence) in predicting preschoolers' social skills, internalizing behavior problems (e.g., fear, anxiety), and externalizing behavior problems (e.g., anger, aggression). The regression analyses revealed that positive parenting significantly predicted greater child self-control and cooperation, and fewer internalizing and externalizing behavior problems. Greater informal social support significantly predicted higher levels of children's self-control, cooperation, responsibility, and assertion. Community violence exposure was a significant predictor of greater internalizing and externalizing behavior problems, and greater family conflict predicted internalizing problems. Implications of the findings for fostering resilience among young African American children in urban communities are discussed.