Objective: To assess the effect family environment stressors (e.g. poor family functioning and parental psychological distress) and neighbourhood environment on child prosocial behaviour (CPB) and child difficulty behaviour (CDB) among 4-to-12 year old children.
Methods: Analysis of the 2006 Victorian Child Health and Wellbeing Survey (VCHWS) dataset derived from a statewide cross-sectional telephone survey, with a final total sample of 3,370 children.
Results: Only family functioning, parental psychological distress, child gender, and age were associated with CPB, explaining a total of 8% of the variance. Children from healthily functioning families and of parents without any psychological distress exhibited greater prosocial behaviours than those from poorly functioning families and of parents with mental health problems. Neighbourhood environment was not found to contribute to CPB. A total of eight variables were found to predict CDB, explaining a total of 16% of the variance. Poor family and parental psychological functioning as well as poor access to public facilities in the neighbourhood were associated with conduct problems in children.
Conclusion: Our results point to the importance of the family environment in providing a context that fosters the development of empathic, caring and responsible children; and in buffering children in exhibiting behaviour difficulties during the formative years of life. Programs aimed at promoting prosocial behaviours in children need to target stressors on the family environment.