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The importance of the relationship between socio-emotional difficulties in childhood and adult mental health are well recognised but how such difficulties emerge is less well recognised. Specifically this paper explores the extent of the relationship between parenting beliefs in the first year of the child’s life, parenting skills reported when the child was three years and different quantiles of socio-emotional development recorded by teachers at 11 years. In addition, it explores the extent to which language development at school entry has the potential to mediate these relationships.

This paper draws on data from the UK’s Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) to investigate the relation between parenting attitudes when the child was ten months old and parent–child relationship when the child was three years of age to child socio-emotional development measured using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire at 11 years, and the mediating role of naming vocabulary measured on the British Abilities Scales (BAS) at school entry (five years).

Unadjusted associations were found for both parental factors on child mental health problems, but this did not hold for parent beliefs once the models were adjusted. The relationships varied in the quantile analysis suggesting that this approach adds to our understanding of these relationships. Vocabulary at school entry mediated the relation to socio-emotional difficulties especially for children with higher levels of mental health problems. Results are discussed in relation to the mechanisms in any intervention to improve mental health outcomes at the end of primary school.

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