Direct, indirect, and buffering effects of support for mothers on children’s socioemotional adjustment.

Support for mothers may improve children’s socioemotional adjustment, yet few studies have considered the benefits of formal support (from health and social work professionals) in addition to social support (from family and friends) or explored the mechanisms. These issues were addressed using a birth cohort (n = 2,649) to explore how mothers’ perceptions of social and formal support when children were ages 10–22 months predicted trajectories of children’s externalizing and internalizing problems from 58 to 122 months. We tested mediating pathways from support to child adjustment via 3 family stressors measured at 46–58 months (maternal distress, economic strain, and dysfunctional parenting) and examined whether support buffered effects of stressors on child adjustment. Social and formal support were simultaneously associated with lower child externalizing and internalizing problem trajectory intercepts at 90 months but did not predict trajectory slopes. Social support effects were mediated mainly via lower maternal distress, which then reduced children’s problems via lower dysfunctional parenting, or more directly. Additional indirect effects involved lower economic strain. Formal support effects were mediated to a lesser extent by reduced dysfunctional parenting. Two buffering effects were found: social support reduced effects of economic strain on internalizing problems, and formal support reduced effects of dysfunctional parenting on internalizing problems. Findings suggest measures promoting families’ social integration should benefit children’s socioemotional adjustment via improved parental psychological and economic resources and by buffering impacts of economic strain. Enhancing access to health and welfare services through greater awareness and trust should benefit children’s adjustment, via improved parenting and by buffering impacts of dysfunctional parenting. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)