Maternal executive function, harsh parenting, and child conduct problems


  • Conflict of interest statement: No conflicts declared.


Background:  Maternal executive function and household regulation both are critical aspects of optimal childrearing, but their interplay is not understood. We tested the hypotheses that (a) the link between challenging child conduct problems and harsh parenting would be strongest for mothers with poorer executive function and weakest among those with better executive function, and (b) this mechanism would be further moderated by the degree of household chaos.

Methods:  The socioeconomically diverse sample included 147 mothers of 3-to-7 year old children. Mothers completed questionnaires and a laboratory assessment of executive function.

Results:  Consistent with hypotheses, harsh parenting was linked with child conduct problems only among mothers with poorer executive function. This effect was particularly strong in calm, predictable environments, but was not evident in chaotic environments.

Conclusion:  Maternal executive function is critical to minimizing harsh parenting in the context of challenging child behavior, but this self-regulation process may not operate well in chaotic environments.