Preschoolers' Self-Regulation and Behavior Problems in the Midst of Caregiver Depression and Chaos

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Journal of developmental and behavioral pediatrics : JDBP




OBJECTIVES: Preschoolers' self-regulation is partially developed through home and child care routines. COVID-19-related child care closures increased caregiver depressive symptoms, household chaos, and children's behavior problems. This longitudinal study examined how preschoolers' prepandemic self-regulation was related to behavior problems early in the pandemic, including buffering against the adverse effects of caregiver depressive symptoms and household chaos. METHODS: A sample of 264 caregivers of preschoolers reported on their children's self-regulation (Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function-Preschool Version Inhibitory Self Control Index) before the pandemic and caregiver depressive symptoms (Center for Epidemiological Studies), household chaos (Confusion, Hubbub, and Order Scale), and children's behavior problems (Behavior Rating Index for Children) during the pandemic. We used linear mixed models to examine predictors of children's behavior problems, including prepandemic self-regulation, and further examined moderation by pandemic-related caregiver depressive symptoms and household chaos. RESULTS: Children were 64% non-Hispanic White and 24% non-Hispanic Black, with mean pandemic age 5.9 years. Prepandemic self-regulation significantly predicted early pandemic behavior problems (β = -0.38 [95% confidence interval, -0.69 to -0.07]). This association was moderated by pandemic-related caregiver depressive symptoms and household chaos; the protective association was maintained at high levels of caregiver depressive symptoms or household chaos, although the association diminished when these co-occurred. CONCLUSION: The protective association between prepandemic self-regulation and subsequent behavior problems suggests longitudinal benefits of preschoolers' inhibitory and emotional control. Despite reduced protection associated with co-occurring caregiver and household challenges, self-regulation continued to demonstrate protection against subsequent behavior problems, even in the midst of a pandemic.


Prevention and Community Health