Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version



J Abnorm Child Psychol (2017) 45:1503–1517, DOI 10.1007/s10802-016-0258-1.


Copyright The Author(s) 2017. This article is published with open access at


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.

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