Problems Reported by Mothers of Pacific Island 2-Year-Olds Born In New Zealand

Many societies today include multiple ethnic groups. People from numerous Pacific Island groups have long lived in New Zealand. To assess the levels of problems among children of different Pacific Island backgrounds, the Pacific Island Family Study (PIF; Paterson, Carter, Gao, & Perese, 2007) is following Pacific Island children born at Middlemore Hospital in Auckland, NZ. Among other assessments, Pacific Island interviewers administered the CBCL/1.5-5 to mothers of 1,028 2-year-olds.

Ethnicity of the children was classified as Samoan, Cook Island, Niuean, Tongan, or other-Pacific. Scores on the seven CBCL/1.5-5 syndromes, Internalizing, Externalizing, and Total Problems were compared for the different ethnic groups, with many family variables included in the analyses. In addition to ethnicity, the variables included mother’s education, age, cultural alignment (e.g., primarily NZ vs. primarily Pacific Island), discipline practices, number of years living in NZ, country of birth, number of children, and household size.

After controlling for the effects of the other variables, the lowest Total Problem scores were found for Samoan children, while the highest were found for Tongan children. Across all the ethnic groups, mothers with the highest levels of education reported fewer Internalizing, Externalizing, and Total Problems than mothers with lower levels of education. Mothers with the smallest households reported fewer Internalizing problems than mothers with larger households, and mothers who used the harshest discipline reported more Externalizing problems than mothers who used less harsh discipline.

Lower levels of problems among children of better educated mothers and higher levels of Externalizing problems among children of mothers who used harsh discipline have also been found in studies of other cultural groups. Although there were clear differences in problem levels reported for children of different Pacific Island groups, the associations of problem scores with maternal education and discipline cut across the different groups.

Reference: Paterson, J., Carter, S., Gao, W., & Perese, L. (2007). Pacific Islands Families Study: behavioral problems among two-year-old Pacific children living in New Zealand. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 48, 514-522.