Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 44, Issue 7, pp 1387–1398 | Cite as

Bidirectional Associations Between Externalizing Behavior Problems and Maladaptive Parenting Within Parent-Son Dyads Across Childhood

  • Sytske Besemer
  • Rolf Loeber
  • Stephen P. Hinshaw
  • Dustin A. Pardini


Coercive parent–child interaction models posit that an escalating cycle of negative, bidirectional interchanges influences the development of boys’ externalizing problems and caregivers’ maladaptive parenting over time. However, longitudinal studies examining this hypothesis have been unable to rule out the possibility that between-individual factors account for bidirectional associations between child externalizing problems and maladaptive parenting. Using a longitudinal sample of boys (N = 503) repeatedly assessed eight times across 6-month intervals in childhood (in a range between 6 and 13 years), the current study is the first to use novel within-individual change (fixed effects) models to examine whether parents tend to increase their use of maladaptive parenting strategies following an increase in their son’s externalizing problems, or vice versa. These bidirectional associations were examined using multiple facets of externalizing problems (i.e., interpersonal callousness, conduct and oppositional defiant problems, hyperactivity/impulsivity) and parenting behaviors (i.e., physical punishment, involvement, parent–child communication). Analyses failed to support the notion that when boys increase their typical level of problem behaviors, their parents show an increase in their typical level of maladaptive parenting across the subsequent 6 month period, and vice versa. Instead, across 6-month intervals, within parent-son dyads, changes in maladaptive parenting and child externalizing problems waxed and waned in concert. Fixed effects models to address the topic of bidirectional relations between parent and child behavior are severely underrepresented. We recommend that other researchers who have found significant bidirectional parent–child associations using rank-order change models reexamine their data to determine whether these findings hold when examining changes within parent–child dyads.


Bidirectional relations Parenting Child problem behavior Fixed effects analysis Within-individual change 



This project was supported by a Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) Rubicon Fellowship to S.B. Data collection was supported through grants to R.L. from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (96-MU-FX-0012), the National Institute of Mental Health (50778, 51091), and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (411018). The authors have no competing or potential conflicts of interest. We gratefully acknowledge the boys, parents, and teachers who participated in the Pittsburgh Youth Study. We would like to thank Tara McGee, the HSSA Writing Group, and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on this paper and Rebecca Stallings for her help with data preparation. Earlier versions of this article were presented at the 2014 Stockholm Criminology Symposium, 2015 Society for Research in Child Development Meeting as well as 2015 American Society of Criminology Annual Meeting.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sytske Besemer
    • 1
  • Rolf Loeber
    • 2
  • Stephen P. Hinshaw
    • 3
  • Dustin A. Pardini
    • 4
  1. 1.University of California, Berkeley, Institute of Human DevelopmentBerkeleyUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of Pittsburgh Medical CenterPittsburghUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of California BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA
  4. 4.School of Criminology & Criminal JusticeArizona State UniversityPhoenixUSA

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