Study Seeks to Understand Factors Associated with the Use of Harsh Discipline by Mothers Who Have Experienced Trauma
It is known that the use of harsh discipline, such as hitting or screaming at a child, is a risk factor for child abuse and is more common in families where the mothers themselves have a history of trauma. Now researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and Boston Medical Center (BMC) have found that such mothers feel most stressed by repetitive child behaviors and report using harsh discipline to try to prevent future behavior problems. The findings, which currently appear online in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, may lead to interventions to promote positive discipline and prevent child maltreatment.
In order to better understand the daily stressors experienced by low-income mothers who had a past history of trauma, the researchers conducted in-depth, one-on-one qualitative interviews with 30 mothers with children under the age of three. After analyzing the data, the researchers identified themes that may increase the effectiveness and relevance of interventions to promote positive discipline and prevent child maltreatment with high-risk families.
“We see our study as a first step in a process to develop specific intervention models to promote positive parenting and prevent child maltreatment in families where mothers have suffered significant trauma,” explained lead author Caroline Kistin, MD, an assistant professor of pediatrics at BUSM and a pediatrician at BMC. “Our next step is to identify supports that will allow mothers to cope with stress without resorting to harsh discipline or leaving their children unsupervised for prolonged periods; and explicitly address parents’ long-term goals for their children and the impact of different discipline approaches,” she added.
Funding for this study was provided by the Joel and Barbara Alpert Endowment for the Children of the City and KL2TR000158-05.