My Dog Ate My Behavior Chart: Examining Discrepancies in Reporting of Externalizing and Internalizing Behaviors between Teachers and Parents of Head Start Preschoolers

Primary author: Austin Lau
Faculty sponsor: Tammy D. Barry

Primary college/unit: Arts and Sciences
Campus: Pullman


Externalizing and internalizing behaviors constitute two classes of “problematic” behaviors that children can exhibit at a young age. To illustrate, hyperactive (e.g., fidgeting, not sitting still) and aggressive behaviors (e.g., punching, fighting) fall in the externalizing domain, and withdrawn behaviors (e.g., depression, mood disturbances) fall in the internalizing domain. The earliest reporters of externalizing or internalizing behaviors are typically students’ parents or teachers. Teachers may observe externalizing or internalizing behaviors of their students at an increased frequency, as students may cope with the more structured demands of the classroom environment by colloquially “acting out” or “shutting down.” Conversely, parents may observe unique patterns of externalizing or internalizing behaviors from their child in an environment with less structure. To better understand the potential discrepancies in reporting, Cohen’s kappa statistics were calculated between parents’ report and teacher’s report of behaviors within a nationally-representative, at-risk youth sample enrolled in Head Start. Parents and teachers rated children with equivalent rating forms with acceptable internal consistency.The kappa statistics for matching conditions (e.g., parent-reported and teacher-reported withdrawn behaviors) suggest that agreement between parent and teacher were overall low. Parent-reported and teacher-reported student hyperactive behaviors exhibited significantly low agreement, with withdrawn behaviors trending significance. Discrepancies in agreement between levels of externalizing/internalizing behaviors across settings may lead to repercussions toward individual behavioral treatment planning as well as the systemic coordination of care between school and home. Future work should examine the importance of convergence or divergence patterns for specific externalizing or internalizing behaviors.