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Social-emotional functioning in early childhood : investigating developmental patterns in childhood mental health and well-being Thomson, Kimberly Catherine

Abstract

Early childhood is a critical developmental period when children form social and emotional sensitivities that will support or undermine their mental health throughout their lives. It is estimated that over half of lifetime mental health problems develop before the age of fourteen, and yet early identification and intervention efforts are often hindered by limited recognition of early mental health indicators and a general absence of population-level monitoring systems. This dissertation addresses these gaps, applying a novel approach (person-centered analysis) to identify latent profiles of social-emotional functioning within population cohorts of children entering Kindergarten in British Columbia from 2001 to 2012. Early childhood social-emotional functioning was measured using the teacher-rated Early Development Instrument (EDI) population health survey that includes measures of internalizing and externalizing behaviours (readiness to explore, aggression, hyperactivity) as well as social competence. Latent profile analysis was used to identify distinguishable profiles of early childhood social-emotional functioning at a population-level. Unique profiles of social-emotional functioning were identified consistently across the three analyses included in this dissertation, with over 55% of children demonstrating overall high social-emotional functioning, over 40% of children demonstrating relative vulnerabilities in internalizing and externalizing behaviours, and approximately 3% of children experiencing multiple comorbid vulnerabilities on nearly all measures. Chapter 2 identifies social gradients in the severity of early childhood social-emotional vulnerabilities, with boys and lower income children over-represented in lower functioning social-emotional profiles. Chapter 3 examines children’s likelihood of depression, anxiety, conduct disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and multiple conditions, and finds that the profile group to which children belong in Kindergarten is predictive of their experience of mental health conditions up to ten years later. Chapter 4 demonstrates that children’s Kindergarten social-emotional profile group is also predictive of their self-reported well-being in middle childhood, with evidence that supportive relationships with adults and peers partially mediates these associations. These studies inform our understanding of patterns of early childhood social-emotional functioning by identifying social conditions and behaviour patterns predictive of children’s future mental health outcomes that can be targeted earlier in the life course to help mitigate mental health problems and promote well-being.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

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