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Child abuse is prevalent worldwide, with most of the burden in developing countries. To reduce and prevent child abuse occurrence, many efforts are directed toward reducing maladaptive parental behaviors (MPBs), a predictor of parents' risk of engaging in child abusive behaviors. MPBs have been associated with child (e.g., behavioral difficulties) and parent characteristics (e.g., parenting stress and parental cognitions), although little research tested for mediational pathways. This study aimed to test the pathways through which child and parent characteristics are linked to MPB. Consistent with the social information processing model of parenting, we hypothesized that child behavioral difficulties would exert an indirect influence on MPB through parenting stress and that parenting stress will exert a direct and indirect effect on MPB through parental cognitions (i.e., expectations, attitudes, and attributions). This study used data from 243 mothers of children aged between 2 and 9 years in Romania. Two-stage structural equation modeling was employed to test the hypothesized model. Results support the role of child behavior, parenting stress, and parental cognitions in predicting MPB (R2 = 0.69). Significant indirect effects were found from child behavior to MPB via parenting stress and parental cognitions. Direct effects from parenting stress and parental cognitions to MPB were significant. Findings show that parenting stress and parental cognitions are important mechanisms through which child behavioral difficulties influence maladaptive parental behavior, underscoring the need to focus on these mechanisms when assessing or intervening with families at risk for child abuse.

Original publication




Journal article


Fam Process

Publication Date



child abuse risk, child adjustment difficulties, parental behavior, parental cognitions, parenting stress, social information processing