Exploring the bidirectionality of emotion understanding and classroom behavior with Spanish- and English-speaking preschoolers attending Head Start.


The present study investigated time-dependent relationships between emotion understanding and the behavioral adjustment of preschoolers over a single school year using a latent variable structural equation modeling framework. Teacher reports of child behavior (hyperactivity, emotion symptoms, conduct problems, peer problems, and prosocial behavior) and performance assessments of emotion understanding were obtained twice at a 6-month interval for a sample of 281 preschoolers (159 boys and 122 girls, with mean age = 52.40 months) from English- (N = 158) and Spanish-speaking (N = 123) backgrounds. Emotion understanding and behavior were stable over time, and cross-sectional associations between them were in expected directions. Cross-lagged paths revealed that the behavior variables significantly associated with emotion understanding across time were hyperactivity, emotion symptoms, and peer problems, and that behavior variables were generally better predictors of emotion understanding than vice versa. Differences across gender and language groups suggest a stronger and more complex bidirectional relationship between emotion understanding and behavior for girls and for Spanish-speaking children compared wth boys and English-speaking children. Results are discussed with respect to the value of exploring cross-lagged relationships and the potential importance of gender and culture as determinants of those relationships.