Harsh parenting and child conduct and emotional problems: parent- and child-effects in the 2004 Pelotas Birth Cohort

Andreas Bauer*, Graeme Fairchild, Sarah L Halligan, Gemma L Hammerton, Joseph Murray, Iná S Santos, Tiago N Munhoz, Aluísio J D Barros, Fernando C. Barros, Alicia Matijasevich

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
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In high-income countries, links between harsh and abusive parenting and child conduct and emotional problems are well-documented. However, less is known about these relationships in low- and middle-income countries, where harsh parenting may be more widely accepted and higher rates of conduct or emotional problems may exist which could influence the strength of these associations. We sought to investigate these relationships in a large population-based, prospective longitudinal study from Brazil, which also allowed us to test for sex differences. Using data from the 2004 Pelotas Birth Cohort Study (N = 4231) at ages 6 and 11 years, we applied cross-lagged path analysis to examine the relationships between harsh parenting (Conflict Tactics Scale Parent–Child version), and child conduct and emotional problems (Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire). We found reciprocal relationships between harsh parenting and child conduct problems, with harsh parenting at age 6 predicting child conduct problems at age 11, and vice versa, even after adjusting for initial levels of conduct problems and harsh parenting, respectively. For child emotional problems, only unidirectional effects were found, with harsh parenting at age 6 predicting child emotional problems at age 11, after adjusting for initial levels of emotional problems, but not vice versa. No significant sex differences were observed in these relationships. These observations based on a middle-income country birth cohort highlight the potential universality of detrimental effects of harsh parenting on child conduct and emotional problems and affirm the importance of addressing parent- and child-effects in preventive and treatment interventions, especially those targeting conduct problems.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Early online date18 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - 18 Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are extremely grateful to all families who took part in the 2004 Pelotas birth cohort study, as well as to the whole Pelotas cohort team, including interviewers, data clerks, laboratory technicians, and volunteers. This article uses data from the study entitled “Pelotas Birth Cohort, 2004”, conducted by the Graduate Program in Epidemiology of the Federal University of Pelotas, in collaboration with the Associação Brasileira de Saúde Coletiva (ABRASCO, Brazilian Public Health Association). Previous phases of the study were supported by the World Health Organization (Grant no. 03014HNI); the Brazilian National Programa de Apoio a Núcleos de Excelência (PRONEX, Support Program for Centers of Excellence; Grant no. 04/0882.7); the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq, Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development; Grant nos. 481012-2009-5, 484077-2010-4, 470965-2010-0, 481141-2007-3, 474023/2011-7 and 426024/2016-8); the Brazilian National Ministry of Health (Grant no. 25000.105293/2004-83); and the Children's Pastorate. IS Santos, AJD Barros, FC Barros, and A Matijasevich receive support from CNPq. The mental health component of the 11-year follow-up was supported by the Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo (FAPESP, São Paulo Research Foundation; Grant no. 2014/13864-6). Andreas Bauer is supported by a University Research Studentship Award from the University of Bath. Gemma Hammerton is supported by a Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellowship (209138/Z/17/Z). Joseph Murray is supported by a Wellcome Trust Investigator Award (210735_Z_18_Z).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


  • Harsh parenting
  • Child abuse
  • Conduct problems
  • Emotional problems
  • Cross-lagged panel design
  • Transactional model


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