Maternal sensitivity to infants in various settings predicts harsh discipline in toddlerhood

Katharina J. Joosen, Judi Mesman*, Marian J. Bakermans-Kranenburg, Marinus H. van IJzendoorn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In a longitudinal study with 73 mothers and their second-born child, stability and main-level differences between measures of maternal sensitivity across settings and over time were examined. Furthermore, the predictability of harsh discipline by these different maternal sensitivity measures was studied. Maternal sensitivity was assessed at three and six months during bathing, free play on mother's lap and the baseline and reunion episode of the Still Face Paradigm (SFP; Tronick, Als, Adamson, Wise, & Brazelton, 1978). Harsh discipline was observed during three home visits in the second year of life. Results showed a single underlying factor for all maternal sensitivity settings at both time points and significant stability over time. Harsh discipline was predicted by maternal sensitivity at three months, which was fully mediated by maternal sensitivity at six months. Early failure to respond appropriately to infant signals is an important indicator of risk for future harsh parenting.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)101-117
Number of pages17
JournalAttachment and Human Development
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • harsh discipline
  • infancy
  • longitudinal
  • maternal sensitivity
  • observation


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