The purpose of the study reported here was to identify developmental precursors of coercive parent–child interaction and child externalizing behavior by examining child and parental behavior, and the interaction of the two during a period critical to the child's socialization process, ages 1 to 2. Although much research has been conducted on the maintenance of coercive family processes and its relation to child externalizing behavior, few investigators have examined the precursors of coercive processes in the early parent–child relationship. Several consistent findings in the development of externalizing behavior in children have served to highlight the importance of the early parent–child relationship. First, aggressive and disruptive behavior are already stable behavioral patterns in school-age children, especially for boys (Cummings, Iannotti, & Zahn-Waxier, 1989; Huessman, Eron, Lefkowitz, & Walder, 1984; Olweus, 1979). Second, family management practices are related to the development of both prosocial and antisocial behavior in children (Block, Block, & Morrison, 1981; Londerville & Main, 1981; Loeber & Stouthamer-Loeber, 1986; Martin, 1981; McCord, 1979; Patterson, 1982; Patterson, Capaldi, & Bank, 1991). Therefore, factors involved in the initiation of coercive family processes and child externalizing behavior may be first evident in the toddler period, when parents and children begin to engage in struggles for the first time.
Although little is known about the stability of aggression in preschool children, among school-age children and adolescents stability of aggression has been well established.