Like Parent, Like Child? Tracking Childhood Problems from Parents to their Children in a Dutch Longitudinal Study

Many studies have reported associations between parenting behavior and children’s problems. However, a longitudinal study that started with a large general population sample of Dutch children in the 1980s has made it possible to test predictive associations from the childhood behavioral and emotional problems of people in one generation to the subsequent childhood problems of their offspring. From an initial sample of children who were assessed with CBCLs completed by their parents, 271 of the original subjects completed the CBCL for 424 of their 6- to 18-year-old offspring 24 years later (van Meurs et al., 2009). Multilevel modeling was used to test associations between CBCL scores of the parent and offspring generations. It was found that parents’ childhood CBCL scores significantly predicted their own children’s scores on Internalizing, Externalizing, Total Problems, and all syndrome scales except Thought Problems.

For the Delinquent Behavior (now called Rule-Breaking Behavior) syndrome, prediction was significantly stronger from mothers’ childhood scores than from fathers’ childhood scores, especially for prediction of sons’ problems. Among the possible explanations for continuity between problems reported for children from parent to offspring generation, the authors suggested that the “genetic vulnerability that the children may have inherited from their parents interacts with the nonoptimal emotional environment that their parents provide, which may trigger the development of problem behavior in the children” (p. 142).

Reference: van Meurs, I., Reef, J., Verhulst, F.C., & van der Ende, J. (2009). Intergenerational transmission of child problem behaviors: A longitudinal, population-based study. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 48, 138-145.