Bidirectional associations between parental warmth, callous unemotional behavior, and behavior problems in high-risk preschoolers

J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2014 Nov;42(8):1275-85. doi: 10.1007/s10802-014-9871-z.


Research suggests that parental warmth and positive parent-child interactions predict the development of conscience and empathy. Recent studies suggest that affective dimensions of parenting, including parental warmth, are associated with fewer behavior problems among children with high levels of callous-unemotional (CU) behavior. Evidence also suggests that CU behavior confers risk for behavior problems by uniquely shaping parenting. The current study examines reciprocal associations between parental warmth, CU behavior, and behavior problems among toddlers. Data from mother-child dyads (N = 731; 49 % female) were collected from a multi-ethnic, high-risk sample at ages 2 and 3. CU behavior was assessed using a previously validated measure (Hyde et al. 2013). Models were tested using two measures of parental warmth, the first from direct observations of warmth in the home, the second coded from 5-min speech samples. Three-way cross-lagged, simultaneous effects models showed that parental warmth predicted child CU behavior, over and above associations with behavior problems. There were cross-lagged associations between directly observed parental warmth and child CU behavior, suggesting these behaviors show some malleability during toddlerhood and that parenting appears to reflect some adaptation to child behavior. The results have implications for models of early-starting behavior problems and preventative interventions for young children.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect / physiology*
  • Child Behavior Disorders / etiology
  • Child Behavior Disorders / psychology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Empathy / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mother-Child Relations / psychology*