Academic journal article Family Relations

Early Determinants of Maternal and Paternal Harsh Discipline: The Generation R Study

Academic journal article Family Relations

Early Determinants of Maternal and Paternal Harsh Discipline: The Generation R Study

Article excerpt

Research described risk factors for maternal use of harsh discipline, but knowledge about determinants of paternal harsh discipline is lacking. This study aimed to identify determinants of harsh discipline and whether this differed between mothers and fathers. Harsh disciplining practices were self-reported by Dutch parents of 3-year-old children. Data were available for 3,756 children and both parents. Younger parental age, non-Western national origin, family dysfunction, psychopathology, and delinquency history were independently associated with an increased risk of maternal and paternal harsh discipline. Indicators of socioeconomic status (e.g., financial difficulties and educational level) were also associated with harsh discipline, but in mothers only. Our results suggest that preventive interventions should ideally be applied early in children's lives or even before birth, given the prevalence of parental harsh discipline in young children. These interventions should have a special focus on socially disadvantaged families and on parents with psychopathology and family stress.

Researchers have identified several risk factors for child abuse and maltreatment. Poverty, mental health problems, and substance use of the parents as well as parental history of abuse are prominent risk factors for child maltreatment (e.g., Berger, 2005; Sidebotham, Golding, & ALSPAC Study Team, 2001; Windham et al., 2004). Recently, researchers have also focused Key Words: determinants, discipline, harsh parenting, punishment, toddlers.

on less extreme forms of parental discipline, such as verbal harsh discipline or mild physical punishment (Barkin, Scheindlin, Ip, Richardson, & Finch, 2007; Bert, Guner, & Lanzi, 2009; Frias-Armenta & McCloskey, 1998; Gutman & Eccles, 1999; Hans, Bernstein, & Henson, 1999; McLearn, Minkovitz, Strobino, Marks, & Hou, 2006; Regalado, Sareen, Inkelas, Wissow, & Halfon, 2004; Weis & Toolis, 2008). For several reasons, it is essential to identify which parents are at risk of using these harsh disciplining strategies. Most importantly, it has been shown that not only child maltreatment, but also harsh discipline present a risk to healthy child development. Children who experienced harsh discipline have an increased risk of emotional and behavioral problems and lifetime psychiatric disorders, even if the harsh punishments occurred infrequently (Lansford et al., 2005; MacMillan et al., 1999; McLoyd & Smith, 2002; Prinzie, Onghena, & Hellinckx, 2006; Taylor, Manganello, Lee, & Rice, 2010; Teicher, Samson, Polcan, & McGreenery, 2006; Vostanis et al., 2006). Also, exposure to parental harsh discipline contributes to lower school achievements and poorer self-esteem of children (Solomon & Serres, 1999). These effects of harsh discipline appear to be independent of preexisting child behavioral problems (Larzelere, 2000; Taylor, Manganello, et al., 2010) but vary by ethnicity and cultural norms (Lansford et al., 2005; Lansford, Deater-Deckard, Dodge, Bates, & Pettit, 2004). Second, harsh disciplining behaviors like yelling, threatening, and hitting are relatively common among parents of infants and toddlers in Western countries (McLoyd & Smith, 2002; Nobes, Smith, Upton, & Heverin, 1999; Straus & Field, 2003; Straus & Stewart, 1999). Furthermore, although the difference between harsh discipline and child abuse is somewhat indistinct (Whipple & Richey, 1997), there seems to be a risk that the use of harsh discipline strategies evolves into child maltreatment over time (Carey, 1994; Fontes, 2005).

Given these harmful consequences and associated hazards, it is important to identify parents at risk for using verbal and physical harsh discipline. Awareness of parental characteristics and other risk factors might contribute to the prevention of harsh parenting. Ecological theories emphasize the multiple causes of poor parenting with a prominent role of parental psychological and demographic factors (Belsky, 1993). …

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