Biology, Not Psychology, May Cause Some Child Abuse

Could abusive parenting come from parents trying to be calm? New research indicates that when aggressive parents try to deal with children in a less aggressive way, a physiological response can be triggered to launch them into an even more abusive mode, writes Science Daily.

The research, which was revealed in the quarterly journal Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, entailed an electrocardiogram estimating the ability of the parents’ nervous system to relax the heart rate as an observation took place of a standard laboratory interaction between a preschool child:

“Studies of child maltreatment have consistently found that parents who physically abuse their children tend to parent in more hostile, critical and controlling ways. Skowron’s team appears to have found evidence of a physiological basis for patterns of aversive parenting — the use of hostile actions such as grabbing an arm or hand or using negative verbal cues in guiding a child’s behavior — in a sample of families involved with Child Protective Services.”

Extensive monitoring was done of mothers and children in order to analyze any changes within their heart rates as they interacted with each other in the laboratory. A score was set to analyze parenting behavior and a standard coding system was used to estimate strict control.

As reported by the analysts, the results revealed that those mothers who were harsh with their children found it more difficult to keep their heart rates in control and to keep themselves calm. This physiological response then resulted in the mothers becoming more abusive, hostile and controlling within a short time following their interaction with the child.

The findings suggest that whenever those parents who are controlling and hostile act positively and politely towards their children, they tend to find that mode of parenting difficult. When frustration and difficulty are present, the parents’ responded by asserting even less control over their emotions than before.

The next step now is to create interventions that will help parents to control their physiological responses and learn how to be relaxed and calm towards their children at all times rather than having to work for it. The research may prove extremely valuable, since previously it was thought that those parents who physically abuse towards their children generally do so in a response to their psychological state and their own troublesome childhood, and the basis of biological founding causes a change in the scenario.