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Die Auswirkungen harter Erziehung

von NFI Redaktion

Important insights for caregivers on the topic of harsh parenting practices

Although most parents strive to provide their children with a loving, gentle, and supportive environment, they sometimes rely on strict parenting practices to instill discipline and rules. Our research shows that harsh parenting, such as hitting or yelling, can have harmful effects on children’s behavior and emotional development, not to mention their educational attainment. This is a reciprocal relationship: children struggling with big emotions or having difficulty behaving appropriately can also increase the strain on their caregivers‘ parenting behavior. This can lead to a self-perpetuating loop, where harsh parenting practices exacerbate children’s mental health problems, leading to further increase in strict parenting practices, further exacerbating children’s mental health problems.

Guidelines and services for parents should highlight the benefits of positive parenting practices over harsh parenting practices.

Harsh parenting negatively impacts children’s mental health
In many parts of the world, including the United States, England, and Northern Ireland, physical punishment of children is still officially allowed. This is problematic considering that multiple studies indicate that harsh parenting practices such as hitting or yelling negatively affect children’s behavioral and emotional development. Such practices have been associated with an increased risk of mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and aggression. They have also been linked to poorer academic performance, lower self-esteem, and impaired social skills. The use of harsh parenting practices such as hitting or yelling is not only ineffective as a disciplinary measure but can also harm children’s mental health.

How does children’s mental health affect parenting behavior?
While research primarily focuses on the effects of parenting behavior on children’s development, effects can also occur in the opposite direction. Children who are frequently disruptive or have difficulty controlling their emotions can also pose a particular strain on parenting behavior. As a result, children’s mental health can negatively impact parenting. For example, a child struggling to control their emotions may frequently have tantrums, leading to parental frustration and negative reactions such as yelling or physical punishment. This, in turn, can lead to the child having even more difficulty controlling their emotions. Such reciprocal relationships have received limited attention in research. By recognizing the influence of a child’s behavior on parenting, interventions can be designed to target both the child’s emotional and behavioral difficulties and the parents‘ responses and coping mechanisms. Supporting parents in positively and effectively managing their child’s difficulties can ultimately lead to better outcomes for the child and the family.

Photo: Monstera. Pexels.

Exploring the reciprocal relationships between parenting and children’s mental health
My colleagues and I conducted a study to examine the reciprocal relationships between parenting behavior and children’s mental health. We examined whether harsh parenting tactics such as hitting and yelling showed a reciprocal relationship with children’s behavior in early to middle childhood (when children are three, five, and seven years old). The behavioral effects we examined included two externalizing behaviors – behavioral problems (e.g., tantrums) and hyperactive/inattentive behavior (e.g., easily distracted). We also examined emotional problems (e.g., symptoms of depression and anxiety). Our study included 14,037 children (49% female, 84% white) and one of their parents (mainly mothers) participating in the UK Millennium Cohort Study. The participants came from various socioeconomic backgrounds and ensured that the study was representative of the British population.

Evidence for reciprocal relationships between harsh parenting and children’s mental health
The use of harsh parenting techniques such as yelling or hitting three- to five-year-olds led to five- and seven-year-olds showing more symptoms of hyperactivity and inattention as well as more emotional problems. These results are consistent with previous research showing that strict parenting practices negatively impact children’s mental health. Harsh parenting practices can exacerbate children’s mental health problems, which in turn lead to further increase in strict parenting practices. This is not a one-sided relationship. Parents of children showing more behavioral problems and hyperactive/inattentive behavior, and parents of children with higher levels of emotional problems were more likely to intensify their harsh parenting in the following year. Therefore, strict parenting can have negative effects on children through a negative self-perpetuating cycle: in this way, harsh parenting practices can exacerbate children’s mental health problems, leading to further increase in strict parenting practices.

Photo: Luke Pennystand. Unsplash

How can parents support children with behavioral or emotional problems?
1. Support the children’s ability to meet expectations
First, our results suggest that harsh parenting practices such as hitting or yelling are not only ineffective as a disciplinary measure but can also harm children’s mental health. To support healthy child development, other parenting techniques should be employed, such as ignoring unwanted behaviors, setting clear expectations, and explaining why certain behaviors are undesirable. (For more examples, see the evidence-based parenting programs for incredible years.) These approaches help children understand their mistakes and learn from them without compromising their self-esteem or sense of security. Using such methods can lead to a more positive and supportive relationship between parents and children.

2. Consider socio-emotional difficulties
Second, our results underscore the importance of addressing parenting difficulties in families with socio-emotional challenges to prevent the accumulation of additional problems. Children experiencing big emotions or having difficulty behaving appropriately can increase stress and challenges in parenting. Therefore, we encourage parents to reflect on their parenting strategies and seek assistance from mental health professionals to develop ways to support their children in overcoming challenging behaviors without resorting to harsh parenting tactics.

Photo: Ahmed Akacha. Pexels.

What does this mean for child development policy?
Our research supports recent policy changes in Scotland and Wales explicitly banning the use of physical punishment as a parenting tool. We encourage policymakers in other parts of the UK, the United States, and elsewhere to implement similar measures. Policymakers should also prioritize the provision of interventions and services for vulnerable children and families. This could include evidence-based parenting programs, mental support for parents and children, and other forms of family support to promote positive child development and prevent the escalation of behavioral and emotional difficulties and negative impacts.

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