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Understanding the nature of associations between family instability, unsupportive parenting, and children's externalizing symptoms

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 February 2019

Jesse L. Coe*
Department of Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, USA
Patrick T. Davies
Department of Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, USA
Rochelle F. Hentges
Department of Psychology, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada
Melissa L. Sturge-Apple
Department of Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, USA
Author for correspondence: Jesse L. Coe, Bradley/Hasbro Children's Research Center, 1 Hoppin Street, Suite 204, Providence, RI02903; E-mail:


This study examined the mediating role of maternal unsupportive parenting in explaining associations between family instability and children's externalizing symptoms during the transition to formal schooling in early childhood. Participants included 243 preschool children (M age = 4.60 years) and their parents. Findings from cross-lagged autoregressive models conducted with multimethod (survey and observations), multi-informant (parent, teacher, and observer), longitudinal (three annual waves of data collection) data indicated that experiences with heightened family instability predicted decreases in supportive parenting, which in turn predicted increases in children's externalizing symptoms. Analyses also revealed a bidirectional association between parenting and family instability over time, such that higher levels of instability predicted decreases in supportive parenting, which in turn predicted increases in family instability.

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Jesse L. Coe is now at the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and the Bradley/Hasbro Children's Research Center of E. P. Bradley Hospital in East Providence, Rhode Island.


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