Maternal functioning and child’s externalizing problems: temperament and sex-based driven effects

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Garon-Carrier G, Pascuzzo K, *Gaudreau W, Lemelin J-P, Déry M. (2022). Maternal functioning and child’s externalizing behavior problems: temperament and sex-based driven effects. Frontiers in Psychology. 13, 874733.


This study examines how maternal adverse parenting (hostility, neglect, low warmth) and psychological distress explain the associations between child temperament factors and externalizing problems. It also examines if these associations differ according to the child’s biological sex. The sample consists of 339 school-age children receiving in-school services for conduct problems. Data were collected through questionnaires completed by mothers at 3 time points, at one-year intervals. Results from path analyses revealed that maternal psychological distress partly explained the associations between each child temperamental factors (negative affectivity, surgency/extraversion, effortful control) and levels of externalizing problems. Specifically, the indirect effect of psychological distress between child negative affectivity and externalizing problems was only significant for boys, not girls. Maternal hostility, on the other hand, mediated the association between child surgency/extraversion and externalizing problems in both boys and girls. Interestingly, neglectful parenting and maternal warmth did not explain the association between child temperamental factors and externalizing problems. The findings suggest small but significant temperament child-driven effects on maternal psychological distress and hostility, in turn, translating into higher levels of externalizing problems. These findings support the relevance of temperament-based interventions for children with conduct problems and of increased mental health support for their mothers. By aiding mothers in developing a larger repertoire of parenting strategies, mothers may be better equipped to respond appropriately to their child’s various temperamental characteristics, hence, reducing their psychological distress and hostile behaviors and limiting the development of child externalizing problems.