Background: The relationship between parenting and the development of antisocial behavior in children is well established. However, evidence for associations between dimensions of parenting and callous-unemotional (CU) traits is mixed. As CU traits appear critical to understanding a subgroup of youth with antisocial behavior, more research addressing the link between early parenting and CU traits is needed.
Methods: The current study investigated longitudinal predictions between measures of harsh and positive parenting, and early CU behavior. Data from mother-child dyads (N = 731; 49% female) were collected from a multi-ethnic, high-risk sample with young children, and included self-reported and multi-method observed parenting. CU behavior was assessed using a previously validated measure of deceitful-callous behavior (Hyde et al., 2011).
Results: Results suggest that dimensions of harsh parenting, but not positive parenting, contribute to the development of child deceitful-callous behavior. Nevertheless, deceitful-callous behavior showed strong stability over time and the effects of harsh parenting, especially observed harshness, were modest.
Conclusions: The current findings have implications for developmental psychopathology and early interventions for antisocial behavior. The results also raise a number of issues about measuring emerging CU behavior in very young children, including the interrelation between parent perceptions and reports of child behavior, parent reactions, and the subsequent development of severe antisocial behavior.