Chaos and Community Attachment in Rural Low-Income Families: Influences on Parenting and Early Childhood Language and Behavior Problems

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Families in rural poverty are vulnerable to a range of environmental stressors that negatively impact early childhood outcomes. There is a need for comprehensive research on the context of rural poverty and its impact on a variety of family and developmental processes. This research would inform the development of parenting and early childhood programs by providing information on the risks rural low-income families face, the resources they have, and the services they need to promote the best possible outcomes for vulnerable children and families.

I intended to address the persistent gap in the empirical literature specific to family processes and child development in low-income, rural communities. My major goal was to enhance our understanding of the mechanisms which affect parenting within the context of rural poverty and their influence on child language and problem behaviors , specifically those related to school readiness.

Participants were low-income rural parents (N = 97) and their preschool age children (M=42 months). Data were collected at one time point in the participants’ homes and included measures of chaos, community attachment, parenting stress, parenting, and child language and behaviors. Hierarchical regression and measured variable path analysis were used to test the relationships between variables.

I found that chaos was significantly related to parenting stress. Community attachment was also found to be significantly related to parenting stress. In addition, positive parenting was significantly related to language outcomes but did not have a significant relationship with behavior problems. Finally, results from my study did not reveal a mediating role of parenting and parenting stress in the relationship between risk and protective factors and child language and behavior problems. My findings are considered in the context of the literature on rural low-income families, and of policy and practice.