The Development of Aggression in 18 to 4

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The Development of Aggression in 18 to 48 Month Old Children of Alcoholic Parents

  Children in families with high cumulative risk scores, reflective of high parentaldepression, antisocial behavior, negative affect during play, difficult child temperament, marital conflict, fathers’ education, and hours spent in child care, had higher levels of aggression at 18 monthsthan children in low risk families. Keywords children of alcoholics; aggression; child behavior; child developmentYears of research have shown that having an alcoholic parent places children at risk for a multitude of behavioral and socioemotional problems (Carbonneau et al., 1998; Clark et al.,1997; Johnson, Leonard, & Jacob, 1989; Leonard et al., 2000, Puttler, Zucker, Fitzgerald, &Bingham, 1998).

The Development of Aggression in 18 to 48 Month Old Children of Alcoholic Parents


NIH-PA Author Manuscript because it “captures the antisocial deviancy construct that has been so strongly and consistently

  fact so strong that Wong, Zucker, Puttler, and Fitzgerald (1999) used it as a proxy indicator of alcohol use in a sample of 6 to 8 year old children too young to yet engage in substance use linked to adolescent alcohol use, as well as adult alcoholic outcomes” (p. Tremblay (2000), in a review of a century’s work on the study of aggression, observed that physical aggression begins as soon as children possess the motor abilities to lash out.

NIH-PA Author Manuscript developing later psychopathology (Campbell, 1995; Moffitt, Caspi, Dickson, Silva, & Stanton

  Illustrating this trajectory, 3 to 5-year-old children with emotional and attentional control difficulties were shown to be at greater risk ofexternalizing behavior problems in later childhood and early adolescence, aggression at age18, and alcohol dependence at age 21 (Caspi, Moffit, Newman, & Silva, 1996; Caspi & Silva,1995). Zucker (1991) highlights the necessity of examining familial, psychological, and biological factors to produce a complete picture ofthe transactional influences on risk and resiliency in the development of alcoholism.

NIH-PA Author Manuscript study, there are a number of variables that may influence the development of aggression, both

NIH-PA Author Manuscript externalizing problems have been found to have higher levels of maternal depression

  In addition to having an increased risk of child regulatory difficulties, alcoholic families have been characterized as being high in parentaldepression, antisocial behavior, and marital conflict, all of which have been shown to have direct and indirect effects (via parenting) on the development of child externalizing behaviors(Edwards, Leonard, & Eiden, 2001; Eiden, Chavez, & Leonard, 1999; Eiden et al., 2002;Loukas et al., 2003; Puttler et al., 1998). In a study of the correlates of parents’ depression, Lyons-Ruth and colleagues noted that depressed mothers and fathers are morelikely to be frustrated, aggravated, and use negative discipline (Lyons-Ruth, Wolfe, Lyubchik,& Steingard, 2002), parenting behaviors that have significant implications for the development of behavior problems.

NIH-PA Author Manuscript Crnic, 1996; Campbell, Pierce, Moore, Marakovitz, & Newby, 1996; Kochanska, 1997). In a

NIH-PA Author Manuscript aggressive behavior from 3 to 12 years of age compared to sons of nonalcoholics (e.g., Loukas

  Third, wehypothesized that children from families with at least one alcoholic parent would have higher levels of aggressive behavior at 18 months (time 1), would display an increasing rate of changein aggressive behavior from 18 to 36 months, and would not evidence the same level of decline from 36 to 48 months of age relative to children without an alcoholic parent. Given the paucity of research on girls of alcoholic parents, we did not have any specific hypothesis about the role of parental alcoholism on aggression among girls, but explored theassociation between alcoholism, associated cumulative risk, and the developmental trajectory of aggressive behavior among girls.

METHOD Participants

NIH-PA Author Manuscript mothers were heavy drinking or had current alcohol problems. As would be expected of

  About 62% of the mothers and 92% of the fathers wereworking outside the home at the time of the 12 month assessment, with very similar percentages NIH-PA Author Manuscript working at the 18 month assessment (66% of mothers and 92% of fathers). These birth records were preselected to exclude families with premature(gestational age of 35 weeks or lower), or low birth weight infants (birth weight of less than2,500 grams), maternal age of less than 19 or greater than 40 at the time of the infant’s birth, plural births (e.g., twins), and infants with congenital anomalies, palsies, or drug withdrawalsymptoms.

NIH-PA Author Manuscript though the size of the differences was generally small (Cohen’s d < .22 in all analyses)

NIH-PA Author Manuscript drinking (RDC; Andreason, Rice, Endicott, Reich, & Coryell, 1986) and fathers and mothers were screened with regard to their alcohol use, problems, and treatment

  Initial inclusion criteria required that bothparents were cohabiting since the infant’s birth, the target infant was the youngest child in the family and did not have any major medical problems, the mother was not pregnant at the timeof recruitment, there were no mother–infant separations of over a week’s time, and the biological parents were the primary caregivers. Fathers in thenonalcoholic group did not meet RDC criteria for alcoholism according to maternal report, did not acknowledge having a problem with alcohol, had never been in treatment, and had alcoholrelated problems (e.g., work, family, legal) in fewer than two areas in the past year and three areas in their lifetime (according to responses on a screening interview based on the Universityof Michigan Composite Diagnostic Index, UM-CIDI; Anthony, Warner, & Kessler, 1994).

NIH-PA Author Manuscript or having been in treatment for alcoholism, was currently drinking, and had at least one alcohol-

  A family was assigned to the both alcoholic group if the father met the above alcoholism criteria and the mother acknowledged alcohol-related problems (TWEAK score of three or higher ormet DSM-IV diagnosis for abuse or dependence) or was heavy drinking (average daily ethanol consumption of 1.00 ounces or higher, and/or binge drinking more than two times a month). Parents were asked to report how often they experienced 20 depressive symptoms (e.g., poor appetite, feeling sad, inability to concentrate) during thepast week with responses including rarely or none, some or a little of the time (1–2 days), occasionally or a moderate amount of time (3–4 days), or most or all of the time (5–7 days).

NIH-PA Author Manuscript collection of global five-point rating scales developed by Clark, Musick, Scott, and Klehr

  All coders weretrained on the Clark scales by the second author and were unaware of group membership and all other data. Interrater reliability was calculated for 17% of the sample (n = 38) and was highfor all six subscales, ranging from Intraclass correlation coefficients of .81 to .92.

NIH-PA Author Manuscript education, number of hours in child care per week, difficult infant temperament, fathers’

  Similar to previous studies (Eiden et al., 2002; Sameroff, Seifer, Baldwin,& Baldwin, 1993), scores in the upper or lower quartile (depending upon the scale) were used as the cutoff for risk, with the exception of fathers’ education with clear criteria for risk (lessthan high school education—5% of the sample). For parents’ aggression toward each other (composite scorecomputed by taking the sum of moderate and severe aggression as reported by both parents), scores above 2 for mother to father aggression and scores above a 1 for father to mother NIH-PA Author Manuscript aggression were assigned to the risk category (30% of the sample for fathers’ aggression and27% of the sample for mothers’ aggression).

NIH-PA Author Manuscript also no differences on the continuous measures of alcohol problems or alcohol use

  Although it is clear that the data were not missing completely at random (MCAR) at 36 and 48 months because a higher proportion of alcoholic families had missing data at these timepoints, we assumed that data were missing at random (MAR). Little and Rubin (1989) defined data as MAR when cases with incomplete data differed from cases with complete data, but thepattern of missingness could be predicted from other variables in the data base.


  Onemodel included a fixed linear slope (variance of the linear slope factor set to 0) and random quadratic slope (variance of the quadratic slope factor freely estimated) and the other includeda random linear slope (variance of the linear slope factor freely estimated) and a fixed quadratic slope (variance of the quadratic slope factor set to 0). There was significant variability in both the intercept (t = 8.91, p < .001) and quadratic(t = 3.34, p < .01) slope factors, suggesting individual variability in aggression at age 18 months and significant individual variability in the quadratic component of change.

NIH-PA Author Manuscript dummy coded variable of two alcoholic parents was negatively associated with the quadratic

  In order to examine this hypothesis, we used the cumulative risk variable and the two dummy coded alcohol group variables ascovariates predicting intercept and slope quadratic factor of aggression for boys and girls separately. Boyswith two alcoholic parents had significantly less of a decline in aggression from 36 to 48 months compared to boys in the nonalcoholic group (see Fig. 2).

NIH-PA Author Manuscript of age had a lower rate of decrease over time


  Results indicated that at 18 months, 4% of children in the nonalcoholic group were in the clinical range on the aggression subscale, compared to 3% in the fatheralcoholic group and none in the both alcoholic group. Thus, it is possible that the boys of alcoholic parents in the present study have failed to develop the self-regulatory It is important to note that over time the percentage of children in the clinically significant range of aggressive behavior increased in both alcohol groups.

NIH-PA Author Manuscript months of age was slightly above 25%. This raises the possibility that respondents to our

  Future studies including samples of mothers with and without alcoholicpartners may be able to better answer the question of the role of maternal alcohol problems in the development of aggression. However, although Nagin and Tremblay (1999) found that aggressive and oppositional male adolescents were aggressive and oppositional boys, only 1 in 8 of such children NIH-PA Author Manuscript In fact, the majority of aggressive and oppositional boys simply outgrew these behaviors between kindergarten and 15 years of age.



  The authors thank parents and infants who participated in this study and the research staff who were responsible for conducting numerous assessments with these families. Manual for the child behavior checklist/2–3 and 1992 profile.

NIH-PA Author Manuscript University of Vermont, Research Center for Children, Youth, and Families; 2000

  The role of age in the relationship of gender and marital status to depression. Drinking and marital aggression in newlyweds: An event-based analysis of drinking and the occurrence of husband marital aggression.

NIH-PA Author Manuscript past century? International Journal of Behavioral Development 2000;24:129–141

  Activity and mood temperament as predictors of adolescent substance use: Test of a self-regulation mediational model. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 1997;36:165–178.

NIH-PA Author Manuscript Zucker, RA. Alcohol involvement over the life span: A developmental perspective on theory and course

  Emergence of alcohol problems and the several alcoholisms: A developmental perspective on etiologic theory and life course trajectory. Page 21Means and Standard Deviations of Child Aggression and Family Risk 18 month aggression 24 month aggression 36 month aggression 48 month aggression Family riskNonalcoholic .45 (.26) .52 (.22) .54 a (.24) .40 ab (.20) 3.15 ab (1.74) Father alcoholic .52 (.26) .56 (.27) .60 (.29) .59a (.24) 4.39 a (2.04) Both alcoholic .50 (.26) .57 (.31) .64a (.35) .63 b (.25) 4.94 b (2.53) Note.

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The Development of Aggression in 18 to 4