Harsh, abusive or rejecting behavior from a parent places a child a greater risk of having social, emotional, or behavior problems and at risk for treating their own children harshly when they become parents. Understanding the long-term impact of harsh or abusive parenting may help uncover ways to stop the cycle of harsh parenting practices and child maltreatment.
Researchers supported by the Pediatric Trauma and Critical Illness Branch studying this problem assessed parenting styles across three generations of rural parents and their children, once they also became parents. This “middle generation” of parents allows researchers to see if those who grow up with harsh or abusive parents act in a similar way, or whether they are able to break the cycle.
Consistent with previous work, researchers found that a parent who was raised in a harsh manner was more likely to treat their own children in a similar way. However, a parent who was raised in a harsh manner was less likely to use that same style of harshness with their children if the parent had a warm and supportive partner.
Although scientists found that a supportive partner could break the cycle of harsh parenting, the researchers also reported that children raised by harsh parents were less likely to choose helpful partners. This information suggests that educational or treatment programs to lessen or stop abusive parenting may be more effective if they also include a focus on supportive and nurturing partners (PMID: 24059934).