This study examined the influence of caregiver-reported harsh physical and verbal punishment on children's behavioral and self-system adjustment. Children's emotion knowledge was evaluated as a heretofore unrecognized moderator of these relations. We assessed 250 preschool-aged children (50% female; Mage = 49.06 months) from diverse backgrounds (50% Hispanic, 18% African American, 10.4% Caucasian, 21.6% multiracial/other) using various instruments through teacher, caregiver, self, and observer report in the domains of harsh punishment, conduct problems, self-concept, and emotion knowledge. Emotion knowledge moderated the relation between harsh punishment and child adjustment. Harsh physical punishment was associated with conduct problems for children with higher emotion knowledge, especially for boys. Harsh verbal punishment was associated with self-concept deficits among children with higher emotion knowledge, especially for girls. These relations were also specifically applicable to non-Hispanic children. These results highlight the importance of investigating hypothesis-driven interactive effects and the specificity of experience to understand the psychosocial sequelae of parenting practices broadly, and to clarify the mixed evidence in the punishment literature specifically. Clinical implications point to the salience of emotion processes in parent-child disciplinary interventions for understanding the prevalence and pattern of child behavioral adjustment and self-concept, as well as more broadly to the role of individual differences in children's responses to adversity and subsequent therapeutic needs.
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