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Parental psychological stress

Parental psychological stress was measured when children were 2 years old using three selected items from the Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Scale (Lovibond and Lovibond, 1995). The complete scale has well established psychometric properties (Henry and Crawford, 2005). Participants were asked to indicate how much the following statements applied to them over the past week: “I found myself getting upset rather easily,” “I found it difficult to relax” and “I found that I was very irritable” measured on a 4 point scale (1–Did not apply to me at all to 4–Applied to me very much or most of the time).

Cognitive ability was measured at age 3 using the naming vocabulary and picture similarities subtests of the British Ability Scales Second Edition (BAS II; Elliott et al., 1997). Studies indicate that the BAS has a sound theoretical underpinning, possesses good psychometric properties and is age appropriate compared to other available tests (Hill, 2005). Naming vocabulary assesses expressive language ability and development, while picture similarities assess problem solving and reasoning ability. For the current study, T-scores derived from normative scores (with a range from 20 to 80, and a mean 50) for both the naming vocabulary and picture superiority scales were used. Items were recoded so that higher scores indicating low cognitive ability.

Harsh discipline was measured using parental response to one question when the children were 4 years old. Participants were asked to indicate whether they have ever used smacking with the named child in the previous year (corresponding to age 3) during which the question was not asked. Response to this item was dummy coded (No—0; Yes—1).