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Developmental trajectories of externalizing and internalizing behaviors: Factors underlying resilience in physically abused children


Using a multisite community sample of 585 children, this study examined how protective and vulnerability factors alter trajectories of teacher-reported externalizing and internalizing behavior from kindergarten through Grade 8 for children who were and were not physically abused during the first 5 years of life. Early lifetime history of physical abuse (11.8% of sample) was determined through interviews with mothers during the prekindergarten period; mothers and children provided data on vulnerability and protective factors. Regardless of whether the child was abused, being African American; being male; having low early social competence, low early socioeconomic status (SES), and low adolescent SES; and experiencing adolescent harsh discipline, low monitoring, and low parental knowledge were related to higher levels of externalizing problems over time. Having low early social competence, low early SES, low adolescent SES, and low proactive parenting were related to higher levels of internalizing problems over time. Furthermore, resilience effects, defined as significant interaction effects, were found for unilateral parental decision making (lower levels are protective of externalizing outcomes for abused children), early stress (lower levels are protective of internalizing outcomes for abused children), adolescent stress (lower levels are protective of internalizing outcomes for abused children), and hostile attributions (higher levels are protective of internalizing outcomes for abused children). The findings provide a great deal of support for an additive or main effect perspective on vulnerability and protective factors and some support for an interactive perspective. It appears that some protective and vulnerability factors do not have stronger effects for physically abused children, but instead are equally beneficial or harmful to children regardless of their abuse status.The Child Development Project was funded by Grants MH42498, MH56961, MH57024, and MH57095 from the National Institute of Mental Health and HD30572 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. We are grateful for the ongoing dedication of the Child Development Project participants and research staff. Portions of these results were presented at the 2002 American Psychological Society convention in New Orleans, LA.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Jennifer E. Lansford, Center for Child and Family Policy, Duke University, Box 90545, Durham, NC 27708-0545; E-mail:
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Development and Psychopathology
  • ISSN: 0954-5794
  • EISSN: 1469-2198
  • URL: /core/journals/development-and-psychopathology
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