The aim is To examine whether adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and physical punishment (ie, spanking) are unique risk factors for behavior problems in early childhood, and whether ACEs moderate the associations of spanking with child behavior problems. We conducted prospective, longitudinal analyses on 2380 families in the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study. Mothers reported outcomes of externalizing and internalizing behavior problems at age 5 years; and the main predictors, ACEs and spanking, at age 3 years. Analyses were adjusted for preexisting behavior problems, demographics, and neighborhood conditions. The magnitude of the associations of ACEs and spanking with externalizing behavior were statistically indistinguishable. ACEs did not moderate the association between spanking and externalizing behavior. ACEs and spanking have similar associations in predicting child externalizing behavior. Results support calls to consider physical punishment as a form of ACE. Our findings also underscore the importance of assessing exposure to ACEs and physical punishment among young children and providing appropriate intervention to children at risk.


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