Mother-Child Interactions and Externalizing Behavior Problems in Preschoolers over Time: Inhibitory Control as a Mediator

Rianne van Dijk, Maja Deković, Tessa L. Bunte, Kim Schoemaker, Mariëlle Zondervan-Zwijnenburg, Kimberly A. Espy, Walter Matthys

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Previous research has shown links between parenting and externalizing behavior problems in young children over time. Associations between inhibitory control, one of the executive functions, and externalizing behavior problems are widely established as well. Yet, the role of inhibitory control in the maintenance and change of externalizing behavior problems over time remains unclear. We examined whether inhibitory control could explain the link between mother-child interactions measured on a moment-to-moment timescale and preschoolers’ externalizing behavior problems as reported by teachers. With a sample of 173 predominantly clinically referred preschoolers (76.9% boys) we tested a longitudinal model proposing that affective dyadic flexibility and maternal negative affect predict as well as interact in predicting hyperactive/impulsive behavior and aggressive behavior, with preschoolers’ inhibitory control as a mediator. Our results provide support for this model for preschoolers’ hyperactive/impulsive behavior, but not for aggressive behavior. Hence, inhibitory control is identified as a mechanism linking the content and structure of mother-child interactions to preschoolers’ hyperactivity and impulsivity over time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1503-1517
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Abnormal Child Psychology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Nov 1 2017


  • Affective dyadic flexibility
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Hyperactivity/impulsivity
  • Inhibitory control
  • Maternal negative affect
  • Preschoolers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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