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Tamara Del Vecchio


While physical aggression is known to be common in toddlerhood, new research suggests that aggression is evident even in infancy. Further, early aggression is stable and predicts maladaptive outcomes later in life. Research supports close associations between harsh, overreactive discipline and physical aggression in early childhood. Harsh discipline encourages and maintains coercive processes in which reciprocal, transactional interchanges escalate aversive behaviors in both parent and child. In accordance with a developmental system perspective, we hypothesized that the congruency between parenting and aggression would increase with age as a result of these transactional interactions on the dyad. A normative US sample of 477 mothers of 6- to 24- month-old children reported on the frequency of aggressive child behaviors and discipline practices. Regression results indicated that both overreactive discipline and child age uniquely predict physical aggression. Though the overall interaction between age and discipline in predicting aggression was not significant, the results suggest a non-linear relationship between the variables. The relation between overactive discipline and aggression was stronger for infants older than a year. Age trends in the relation between parenting and aggression also differed by sex, with the influence of parenting stronger for girls beginning at 12 months of age. These findings further our understanding of the role of harsh discipline on aggression in the first years of life and may have important implications for the prevention and treatment of childhood behavior problems.

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