Good Grief, Goodbye!
Harsh Parenting Linked to Lack of Empathy in Children
My childhood should have taught me lessons for my own fatherhood,
- Bill Cosby
New York - Parents who rely on harsh punishments to discipline their children may be fostering more than a tense relationship. According to results of a recent study, excessively strict mothers may be interfering with their child's ability to show empathy.
"The present results clearly suggest that mothers who are overly strict and harshly punitive, who do not tend to reason or establish reasonable and consistent rules, and who strongly show their anger or disappointment with their children, are likely to impede their children's prosocial development," write Dr Paul D Hastings, with the National Institute of Mental Health, and colleagues.
Youngsters may interpret such behavior as a lack of caring by the parent, according to the study, which only looked at a mother's parenting style. The findings are reported in the September issue of Developmental Psychology. On the other hand, mothers who were warm, used reasoning and did not rely on harsh punishments to discipline their children tended to help maintain a child's empathy for others.
Future studies are needed to look at how the parenting style of fathers influenced a child's concern for others.
The team of researchers followed 3 groups of children with varying levels of aggressive or disruptive behaviour from preschool into elementary school. While all 3 groups showed equal concern for others in preschool, children with behavioral problems became less empathetic over time.
To measure empathy, the investigators looked at how the children reacted to a staged accident in which the child's mother or a female researcher injured a foot. The adult winced, expressed pain verbally and rubbed the affected area. In preschool - or at about 4 to 5 years of age - children who were aggressive and disruptive showed just as much concern as their peers. Over the years, however, children with behavioral problems expressed less concern for the injured adults. By the age of nearly 7, most of these children showed much less concern. What's more, they were described as being the most antisocial by their mothers, teachers and themselves.
Boys described as aggressive showed more active disregard for others through anger, violence and laughter at another person's distress, particularly toward their mothers. The authors suggest that this response may be a reaction to their mothers' style of parenting. "These boys may have experienced more emotional, and possibly physical, pain in their maternal relationships than had the other children," Hastings and colleagues suggest. "Their angry or detached stance when their mothers were in need may have reflected an effort to distance themselves or decrease their own arousal in distressing interactions."
The researchers note that preschool children with behaviour problems became less aggressive when they were able to maintain concern for others. Fostering young children's concern for others may be a good way to help ward off behavioural problems in children who tend to be overly aggressive or disruptive at an early age, the authors conclude.
Source: Reuters Health Monday 18 September 2000 reporting on Developmental Psychology 2000 36:531-546
Poor Parenting May Create Disruptive Children
I love to go down to the schoolyard and watch all the little children jump up and down and run around yelling and screaming...
- Emo Philips
New York - Parents who attempt to exercise control over their children via yelling, insulting or hitting may stimulate disruptive, defiant behaviours in their offspring, according to a study of children born to teen mothers. This type of "negative control" behaviour on the part of parents "fuels the child's later problem behaviour" suggests Dr Susan Spieker and colleagues at the University of Washington in Seattle. Their findings are published in the March/April issue of the journal Child Development.
The study authors sought to determine the possible causes of the unruly behaviours of "problem" children. To do so, they compared rates of problem behaviours in 185 toddlers (ages 3 to 6 years) born to teen mothers. Spieker and colleagues report that boys were more likely than girls to "act up" as were children born to mothers suffering from either depression or anxiety.
They also found that, in the case of most children, levels of disruptive behaviour declined between 3.5 and 6 years of age. However, mothers who "reported frequent yelling, threatening, and spanking of their children during a conflict or disagreement had children whose disruptive behaviour did not decrease over time," the authors note.
The investigators report that "child disruptive behaviour and maternal negative control (behaviours) are mutual influences on each other." In other words, the level of the parent's verbal and physical abuse appears to escalate in the face of mounting child defiance - and vice versa. Spieker's team cannot confirm that negative parenting techniques are an actual cause of disruptive behaviour in children. However, previous studies have suggested that this type of relationship is established early in the parent- child relationship, with "maternal control at age 4 [predicting] behaviour problems at age 9."
Based on their findings, the Seattle researchers believe parent counselling and other forms of intervention may help break this destructive cycle, especially "if they are targeted (at parents) early in the preschool years."
Source: Reuters Health 6 April 99 reporting on Child Development 1999;70:443-458
Americans Favour Spanking Children, Says Poll
Everyone is guilty at one time or another of throwing out questions that beg to be ignored, but mothers seem to have a market on the supply.
- Erma Bombeck
Los Angeles - A national study released Thursday revealed widespread support for spanking among American adults, a result which disturbed some children's advocates.
The national poll released by the Children's Institute International (CII) found that 82% of adults polled said they had been spanked as children, and 55% agreed that a "good, hard spanking" is sometimes necessary.
"It's worrisome that spanking remains such a part of the American culture, in view of scientific evidence demonstrating its ill effects," said Steve Ambrose, director of research at CII, in a statement. "There is a wealth of research data showing that violent parenting produces violent children. We are not saying that parents shouldn't discipline their children, but there are more appropriate and effective ways than hitting them," he continued, saying a campaign of public education on the drawbacks of physical punishment was needed.
However, the majority of those surveyed drew the line at punishment severe enough to leave marks or using a belt - 60% of respondents said punishments leaving marks on a 2-year-old would constitute child abuse; 74% said it is child abuse when a belt is used to discipline a 2-year-old. [Does that mean 26% felt it wasn't?!]
Respondents said it is also child abuse if spanking leaves marks on a 12-year-old (53%) or if a 12-year-old is beaten with a belt (54%).
Although adults generally favour spanking, the poll found that they are searching for alternatives. Only 8% of adults said spanking is the very best way to discipline a child; 31% of Americans believe speaking with the child is the preferred form of discipline. "Time-outs" - cool-down periods for children - were favoured by 19% of respondents, while another 19% said removing privileges is the best way to punish a child.
The institute criticised the Oklahoma state legislature, which recently urged parents to "spank, switch, or paddle" children who misbehave. "Oklahoma lawmakers are sending the wrong message," said Mary Emmons, chief executive officer of CII. "Lawmakers would be better served spending their time finding the money to fund parent education programmes - not laws that promote child abuse," she said.
The poll of 981 adults was concluded last month by Penn Scoen and Berland, and has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.
Source: © Nando Media and Agence France-Press 3 June 1999
Source: National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse
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