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Keywords:

  • behavior problems;
  • emotional support;
  • ethnicity;
  • physical discipline

Using data collected over a 6-year period on a sample of 1,039 European American children, 550 African American children, and 401 Hispanic children from the children of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, this study assessed whether maternal emotional support of the child moderates the relation between spanking and behavior problems. Children were 4–5 years of age in the first of 4 waves of data used (1988, 1990, 1992, 1994). At each wave, mothers reported their use of spanking and rated their children's behavior problems. Maternal emotional support of the child was based on interviewer observations conducted as part of the Home Observation for Measurement of the Environment. For each of the 3 racial-ethnic groups, spanking predicted an increase in the level of problem behavior over time, controlling for income-needs ratio and maternal emotional support. Maternal emotional support moderated the link between spanking and problem behavior. Spanking was associated with an increase in behavior problems over time in the context of low levels of emotional support, but not in the context of high levels of emotional support. This pattern held for all 3 racial-ethnic groups.