A new study reveals that verbally aggressive (VA) mothers tend to control their children’s choice of activities as well as use physical negative touch, along with directives, when trying to alter their child’s actions.
Researchers led by Steven R. Wilson of Purdue University videotaped forty mothers as they completed a ten minute play period with one of their children between the ages of three and eight years. The mothers then completed a series of questionnaires including the Verbal Aggressiveness Scale.
Mothers who scored higher on the self-reported VA Scale engaged in more frequent directing of their child’s behavior during the play activities. These mothers were more likely to control activity choices as well as the pace and duration of activities. High VA mothers did so repeatedly and in a manner that tended to enforce an activity choice they had made. Low VA mothers were more likely to follow their child’s lead or seek their child’s input about choice of activity.
High VA mothers used physical negative touch (PNT) when trying to change their child’s actions. Examples of parental PNT by high VA mothers included restraining a child by the shoulder or the wrist to prevent him or her from reaching a toy. No instances of PNT occurred for low VA mothers.
In addition, children with low VA mothers displayed virtually no resistance to their mother’s directives. Children with high trait VA mothers occasionally resisted their mothers’ directives, though this resistance tended to be indirect and short-lived.
“Our study has implications for parenting classes and interventions,” the authors conclude. “In addition to talking about why it is important for parents to avoid lots of verbally aggressive behavior to avoid damaging their child’s self-esteem, parents who have this tendency also need to learn how to follow their child’s lead and read their child’s signals, as opposed to just taking over the play period themselves.”
- Wilson et al. Mothers Trait Verbal Aggressiveness as a Predictor of Maternal and Child Behavior During Playtime Interactions. Human Communication Research, 2008; 34 (3): 392 DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2958.2008.00326.x
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