A growing body of research has examined the role of maternal adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on child behavior problems.


To summarize the literature examining the association between maternal ACEs and child behavior problems via a systematic review.


Electronic searches were conducted in Medline, PsycINFO, and Embase (1998–June 2020). Reference lists were reviewed. In total, 3048 records were screened.


Studies were included if an association between maternal ACEs and child externalizing (eg, aggression) and/or internalizing (eg, anxiety) problems was reported. In total, 139 full-text articles were reviewed for inclusion.


Data from 16 studies met full inclusion criteria. Studies were synthesized by child externalizing and internalizing outcomes.


Maternal ACEs were significantly associated with child externalizing problems across all studies (number of studies synthesized per outcome [k] = 11). Significant associations were also found for inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity (k = 4), and aggression (k = 2). For internalizing problems (k = 11), significant associations were identified across 8 studies and nonsignificant associations were reported for 3 studies. Maternal ACEs were consistently associated with child anxiety and depression (k = 5). However, inconsistent findings were reported for somatization (k = 2).


Results are limited to mother-child dyads and questionnaire measures of behavior problems in primarily North American countries.


Mothers’ ACEs demonstrated largely consistent associations with children’s behavior problems. Future research is needed to determine if specific types of maternal ACEs (eg, household dysfunction) are more strongly associated with child behavior problems.

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