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Doubly at risk: Internalizing symptoms and early academic skills

Susan M Meagher, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Early difficulties in children's academic and emotional development can set in motion long term patterns of maladjustment. Research which focuses on the intersection between these two developmental domains warrants increased attention. This study examined relationships between early internalizing problems, including symptoms of anxiety, depression, somatic complaints, withdrawal, and social problems, and emergent academic skills cross-sectionally and over a six month period of preschool. Relationships were considered in light of relevant socio-cultural factors, namely gender and socio-economic status. This study utilized a multi-informant measurement of child behavior and objective measures of emergent academic skills. Participants included 134 preschool children, their mothers, and their teachers. Correlational and regression analyses were performed to evaluate hypothesized relationships. Although results support the overall hypothesis that internalizing symptoms and related social problems are associated with early academic skills, findings were mixed with respect to the strength of relationships and which symptoms and skills were related. Specifically, expressive language skills and letter naming skills were the academic skills most negatively associated with symptoms, and withdrawn behavior and social problems were the symptoms most related to skills. Different patterns of relationships were indicated for boys and girls and for SES groups including unanticipated positive associations between some skills and symptoms for high SES children. Several longitudinal associations were found. Initial symptoms predicted later letter knowledge and reading concept skills, and initial letter knowledge skills predicted later symptoms, pointing to bidirectional influences. These findings provide a step forward in drawing connections between children's early mental health and emergent skill development and in identifying gender and socio-economic differences and directions for future work.

Subject Area

Early childhood education|Educational psychology|Clinical psychology

Recommended Citation

Meagher, Susan M, "Doubly at risk: Internalizing symptoms and early academic skills" (2008). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3325137.