Impact of Parenting Intervention on Observed Aggressive Behaviors in At-Risk Infants

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Aggressive behaviors in early childhood persist through childhood and adolescence and result in negative outcomes. However, studies assessing aggressive behaviors in early childhood have focused primarily on parent report. Additionally, the effects of parenting interventions and associated parenting skills on early observed aggression have not been examined. In the present study, we examined the direct effect of a brief, in-home adaptation of Parent–Child Interaction Therapy, the Infant Behavior Program (IBP), on observed frequency of aggressive behaviors and global ratings of aggression in infants ages 12 to 15 months. Additionally, we examined behaviorally-based parenting skills as a mechanism by which the IBP impacted observed infant aggressive behaviors. Sixty infants with elevated levels of behavior problems were randomized to receive the IBP or standard pediatric primary care. Infants receiving the IBP demonstrated a significant decrease in the observed frequency of aggressive behaviors during infant-led play across a 3-month follow-up. Furthermore, the intervention led to decreases in parental use of don’t skills (i.e., directive and negative parent statements), which, in turn, led to decreases in the frequency of observed aggressive behaviors at a 3-month follow-up. However, effects were not maintained at a 6-month follow-up. Results provide preliminary evidence for the efficacy of a brief parenting intervention on reducing the frequency of infant aggressive behaviors, including the indirect effect of the IBP on the frequency of aggressive behaviors through reductions in parenting skills. The study highlights the importance of targeting negative parenting practices to decrease subsequent aggressive behaviors in early childhood.