Identifying early pathways of risk and resilience: The codevelopment of internalizing and externalizing symptoms and the role of harsh parenting

ABSTRACT Psychological disorders co-occur often in children, but little has been done to document the types of conjoint pathways internalizing and externalizing symptoms may take from the crucial early period of toddlerhood or how harsh parenting may overlap with early symptom codevelopment. To examine symptom codevelopment trajectories, we identified latent classes of individuals based on internalizing and externalizing symptoms across ages 3–9 and found three symptom codevelopment classes: normative symptoms (low), severe-decreasing symptoms (initially high but rapidly declining), and severe symptoms (high) trajectories. Next, joint models examined how parenting trajectories overlapped with internalizing and externalizing symptom trajectories. These trajectory classes demonstrated that, normatively, harsh parenting increased after toddlerhood, but the severe symptoms class was characterized by a higher level and a steeper increase in harsh parenting and the severe-decreasing class by high, stable harsh parenting. In addition, a transactional model examined the bidirectional relationships among internalizing and externalizing symptoms and harsh parenting because they may cascade over time in this early period. Harsh parenting uniquely contributed to externalizing symptoms, controlling for internalizing symptoms, but not vice versa. In addition, internalizing symptoms appeared to be a mechanism by which externalizing symptoms increase. Results highlight the importance of accounting for both internalizing and externalizing symptoms from an early age to understand risk for developing psychopathology and the role harsh parenting plays in influencing these trajectories.