Parenting is generally conceived as a unidirectional construct in which parents are thought to be the direct or indirect cause of different child outcomes. Children who exhibit problematic behavior, who display hurtful and uncaring behavior toward others or who are aggressive or turn to delinquency when they reach adolescence are often viewed as the product of insufficient parental competence (i.e., nurture) in addition to inherited genetic predisposition (i.e., nature). Competent parental behavior, on the other hand, counteracts the development of callous-unemotional traits and disruptive conduct by promoting the internalization of prosocial and normative behavior. However, empirical evidence consistently shows that the general behavioral patterns of parents and children become interdependent and mutually reinforcing during childhood. Parents with low parental competence, who interact with temperamentally difficult children, consistently create coercive exchanges that produce escalations in child oppositional and aggressive behavior, subsequently increasing the likelihood of continued harsh parenting strategies. Therefore, early prevention and intervention programs must have a systemic approach and target the parents, the children, and the interaction process itself. If the cycle of harsh, negative, and confrontational interactions is not broken during early childhood, there is a risk that coercion settles as a baseline pattern of conduct for future relationships.
Part of the book: Parenting