Parenting and Infant Difficulty: Testing a Mutual Exacerbation Hypothesis to Predict Early Onset Conduct Problems


  • The research described in this article was supported by National Institutes of Health Grants MH040864 and MH015755.

concerning this article should be addressed to Michael F. Lorber, Family Translational Research Group, Department of Cardiology and Comprehensive Care, New York University, 345 East 24th Street, New York, NY 10010. Electronic mail may be sent to


The prediction of conduct problems (CPs) from infant difficulty and parenting measured in the first 6 months of life was studied in a sample of 267 high-risk mother–child dyads. Stable, cross-situational CPs at school entry (5–6 years) were predicted by negative infancy parenting, mediated by mutually angry and hostile mother–toddler interactions at 24–42 months. Mother–child interactions late in toddlerhood were especially relevant for CPs. Contrary to predictions, difficult child behavior in the first 6 months of life was not consistently associated with CPs, either independently or in interaction with negative infancy parenting. The findings most strongly highlight the role of negative mothering in early infancy, and of changes in mother–toddler interaction, in early onset CPs.