Ecological and individual-level perspectives on children's at-home behaviour




LeClair, James Andre

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This study examined the prevalence, spatial distribution, and correlates of problem behaviour amongst the Grades K-4 cohort in the most highly urbanised portion of the Capital Regional District, British Columbia. Data for the study were collected during the period October through December, 1997. The first stage of data collection involved the distribution of a survey package, consisting of a socio-demographic and medical history questionnaire and the Walker Problem Behaviour Identification Checklist, to the parents of 3121 children in the 15 participating schools. A total of 571 useful responses were obtained, yielding a useful response rate of 18.3%. In the second stage of data collection, hair samples were obtained from 258 children. Hair elemental analysis of the samples allowed for the determination of individual children’s exposures to several toxic metals as well as systemic and/or dietary levels of various nutritive elements. Results of the behavioural assessment revealed that 23.8% of the participating children received a score in the ‘problem behaviour’ range for the Total Walker scale, a measure of overall behavioural functioning. Rates of problem behaviour for the subscales varied considerably: Acting-Out (33.5%); Withdrawal (5.3%); Distractibility (12.4%); Disturbed Peer Relations (31.2%); Immaturity (26.4%). Substantial variations in rates of problem behaviour were revealed at the census tract level, with each scale exhibiting a concentration of problem behaviour in the central portion of the study area. The most pronounced clustering of problem behaviour was apparent for the Total and Withdrawal scales, while the Disturbed Peer Relations scale results exhibited the most dispersed pattern. Ecological correlation analyses revealed that measures of socio-economic disadvantage, high mobility, and family dysfunction were positively correlated with census tract rates of problem behaviour, while measures of social and economic advantage appeared to have a ‘protective’ effect. The degree to which the urban ecology of the study area was related to prevalence rates was dependent upon the nature of the behaviour being considered, with behaviours related to withdrawal and immaturity showing the least association with social factors. Contextual analyses suggested that, in some cases, the quality of the urban environment had an independent association with problem behaviour, beyond the effects of individual social status. Amongst the medical history-related factors considered, having a food allergy was a characteristic significantly more prevalent amongst children with problem behaviour on the Total and Distractibility scales, while children born following a ‘prolonged labour’ were more likely to receive a score above the problem behaviour threshold for the Immaturity scale. Social status and family characteristics appear to be of particular significance as potential ‘risk’ and ‘protective’ factors. Children with problem behaviours were more frequently exposed to variables describing economic disadvantage, stressful life circumstances, and disruptive events; and were more likely to live in a single parent, rented, and/or subsidised home than other children. The factors considered were of least importance for behaviour characterised by ‘acting-out’ and ‘immaturity.’ While seemingly of less significance than the other factors considered, nutritive mineral imbalances and toxic metal exposures may have an important influence on children’s behaviour. Calcium status appears to be of some consequence, with significant positive associations observed between 'low’ exposure to this mineral and problem behaviour of several types. Behaviour characterised by distractibility ’ may be the most affected by mineral status, with significant associations observed between problem behaviour of this type and 'low ’ calcium, 'high’ manganese, and 'high' cadmium. The results obtained suggest that at least one factor from each level of analysis was of significance as a potential 'risk’ or protective’ factor for each behavioural problem considered. As a result, a more holistic, multidisciplinary approach to the study of childhood behavioural problems seems justified.



Behavioral assessment of children, Children, Child development