The current study examined the influence of maternal characteristics on the development of infant smiling and laughter, a marker of early positive emotionality (PE) and how maternal characteristics and the development of infant PE contributed to subsequent maternal parenting. One hundred fifty-nine mothers with 4-month-old infants participated. Maternal characteristics were assessed 4 months postpartum, infant smiling and laughter were assessed at 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12 months postpartum, and maternal negative parenting was assessed 18 months postpartum. Latent growth modelling was used to test hypotheses regarding the influence of maternal characteristics on the development of infant smiling and laughter, and the contribution of infant smiling and laughter to later maternal parenting. Higher maternal effortful control and PE predicted more initial infant smiling and laughter, whereas more maternal parenting stress predicted lower slopes of infant smiling and laughter. More frequent/intense symptoms of maternal depression predicted higher scores on a measure of negative parenting, whereas higher maternal PE and better effortful control predicted lower negative parenting scores. After accounting for maternal characteristics, higher intercepts and slopes of infant smiling and laughter predicted fewer reports of negative parenting practices. The implications of these findings for future research are discussed. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.