Verbal aggression against kids may affect their behaviour

August 5th, 2008 - 1:54 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Aug 5 (IANS) Mothers who discipline their children by being verbally aggressive are likely to impact the kids’ self-esteem and behaviour negatively, a new study has confirmed. “Parents who have a propensity for being verbally aggressive have a tendency to … control their children during a play period,” said Steven R. Wilson, a professor of communication in Purdue University, who specialises in family issues.

“As a result, these children were less cooperative, and not only are parents setting up situations that are challenging for them to handle, but they also are subtly undermining their child’s self-esteem.”

Wilson and Felicia Roberts, associate professor of communication, co-authored the study. They videotaped 40 mothers as they played with one of their children, aged between three and eight years, during a 10-minute, unstructured play period.

The mothers also completed a series of questionnaires to assess their general tendency to be verbally aggressive towards others. For example, someone who is verbally aggressive is likely to insult others as a way to motivate them to comply or behave.

For example, the four mothers with the highest verbal aggression scores on average were attempting to direct their child’s actions once every 12 seconds, while the four mothers with the lowest verbal aggression scores tried to do so only about half as often.

These mothers used negative body language, such as restraining a child by the wrist or shoulder, to reinforce their commands.

“Of course all parents direct their children, and people in general are always directing others to close a door or hand them something,” said Roberts, who has a background in linguistics and is a conversational analyst.

“It’s something we do all the time. But there is a qualitative difference in the kinds of directing going on by these verbally aggressive mothers.

“By looking at how and when directives occurred, not just how often, we found that moms who scored highest on verbal aggression used directives to control the child and, ultimately, the way the game or activity was played.”

Parents keen on improving communication with children should contact a paediatrician or seek out community family and social service programs, Wilson said.

These findings were published in the July issue of Human Communication Research journal.

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