Maternal executive function, harsh parenting, and child conduct problems

Kirby Deater-Deckard, Zhe Wang, Nan Chen, Martha Ann Bell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

173 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1084-1091
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2012


  • Parenting
  • conduct problems
  • emotion regulation
  • executive function


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