Contributions of symptoms of parental depression, marital/family adjustment, parents' coercive (physical restraint, criticism, directives) and instructional behaviors (cognitive guidance, i.e., explanations of goals/strategies, suggestions regarding strategies for completing tasks), and children's effortful control to preschool children's externalizing behavior problems were investigated. It was hypothesized that children's higher levels of effortful control serve a protective function, leading to lower levels of child conduct difficulties despite parental/familial risk factors. Higher levels of depressive symptoms, coercion, and cognitive guidance, along with lower levels of child effortful control, were associated with higher levels of child externalizing behaviors. Differences in hierarchical regression models were observed for data obtained from mothers and fathers, with maternal coercive behavior and cognitive guidance serving as statistically significant predictors of children's externalizing behavior and reports of marital/family adjustment predicting child externalizing problems described by fathers. These parental/family factors, along with child effortful control, should be considered in understanding the development of behavior problems in early childhood, and could be addressed within school or community-based interventions. © 2003 Elsevier Science Inc. All rights reserved.
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