The relations of household chaos to children's language development: the mediating roles of children's effortful control and parenting
This study drew upon a bioecological framework to empirically investigate the relations between environmental chaos and preschoolers' language across time, including the potentially mediating roles of children's effortful control and parenting. Child sex also was examined as a moderator of these relations. For this study, the following data were collected at 30, 42, and 54 months of age. Household chaos and (at 30 months) socioeconomic status (SES) were reported by mothers. Children's effortful control (EC) was rated by mothers and nonparental caregivers, and was observed during a number of laboratory tasks. Maternal vocalizations were assessed during free play sessions with their children (at 30 and 42 months), and supportive and unsupportive parenting behaviors and affect were observed during free play and teaching tasks at each age. Mothers also reported on their own reactions to children's negative emotions. Finally, (at 54 months) children's expressive and receptive language was measured with a standard assessment. Structural equation modeling and path analyses indicated that SES at 30 months and greater levels of household chaos at 42 months predicted not only poorer language skills, but also deficits in children's EC and less supportive parenting in low-income mothers at 54 months, even when controlling for stability in these constructs. Children's effortful control at 42 months, but not parenting, positively predicted later language, suggesting that EC may play a mediating role in the relations between household chaos, as well as SES, and preschoolers' language abilities. Child sex did not moderate the pattern of relations. Post-hoc analyses also indicated that the negative relation between chaos and language was significant only for children who had low EC at 42 months. This study represents a much-needed addition to the currently limited longitudinal research examining environmental chaos and children's developmental outcomes. Importantly, findings from this study elucidate an important process underlying the links between chaos and children's language development, which can inform interventions and policies designed to support families and children living in chaotic home environments.