Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 39, Issue 1, pp 71–81 | Cite as

Child Effortful Control as a Mediator of Parenting Practices on Externalizing Behavior: Evidence for a Sex-Differentiated Pathway across the Transition from Preschool to School

  • Hyein ChangEmail author
  • Sheryl L. Olson
  • Arnold J. Sameroff
  • Holly R. Sexton


An explanatory model for children’s development of disruptive behavior across the transition from preschool to school was tested. It was hypothesized that child effortful control would mediate the effects of parenting on children’s externalizing behavior and that child sex would moderate these relations. Participants were 241 children (123 boys) and their parents and teachers. Three dimensions of parenting, warm responsiveness, induction, and corporal punishment, were assessed via maternal report when children were 3 years old. Child effortful control at age 3 was measured using laboratory tasks and a mother-report questionnaire. Mothers and teachers contributed ratings of child externalizing behavior at age 6. Results showed that the hypothesized model fit the data well and that the pattern of associations between constructs differed for boys and girls. For boys, parental warm responsiveness and corporal punishment had significant indirect effects on children’s externalizing behavior three years later, mediated by child effortful control. Such relations were not observed for girls. These findings support a sex-differentiated pathway to externalizing behavior across the transition from preschool to school.


Corporal punishment Maternal warmth Proactive discipline Effortful control Externalizing behavior problems Temperament Preschool Sex differences 



This research was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (RO1MH57489) to Sheryl Olson and Arnold Sameroff. Support for Holly R. Sexton was provided by the Center for the Analysis of the Pathway from Childhood to Adulthood, funded by the National Science Foundation (Grant 0322356). We are very grateful to the children, parents, teachers, and preschool administrators who participated, and to many individuals who gave us invaluable help with data collection and coding, especially Gail Benninghoff, Meribeth Gandy Pezda, Lisa Alvarez, David Kerr, Nestor Lopez-Duran, Erika Lunkenheimer, Lindsey Combs-Ronto, and Jennifer LaBounty. We also thank the administrators of the University of Michigan Children’s Center for their generous assistance.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hyein Chang
    • 1
    • 4
    Email author
  • Sheryl L. Olson
    • 2
  • Arnold J. Sameroff
    • 2
  • Holly R. Sexton
    • 3
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.Department of Psychology and Center for Human Growth and DevelopmentUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  3. 3.The Institute of Social ResearchUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA
  5. 5.Department of Human EcologyUniversity of TexasAustinUSA

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