High levels of stress during COVID-19 increase the chances of aggressive disciplinary practices by parents

During the COVID-19 pandemic, parents were most likely to use aggressive discipline toward their children when their daily stress levels were highest, usually late in the day, a study of parents in central Ohio found.

The results of the study, which measured stress levels three times a day for two weeks, showed that for each higher level of stress (rated 1-10), parents were 1.3 times more likely to use physical punishments, such as shaking or cracking. child or psychological aggression, as an attempt to make the child ashamed.

It’s not overall stress levels that matter, said Bridget Freistler, lead author of the study and a professor of social work at Ohio State University.

Overall stress levels seem to be less important to the way parents discipline their children than the stress they are currently experiencing. “

Bridget Freistler, professor of social work at Ohio State University

Most likely, these aggressive disciplinary actions take place in the afternoon or evening.

“As stress builds up during the day, they may be more likely to attack and use aggressive discipline that is not good for children,” she said.

Freistler conducted the study with Jennifer Price Wolfe, an associate professor of social work at San Jose State University, and Kaylee Chadwick and Catherine Renick at Ohio State College of Social Work. It was recently published online in Magazine for Domestic Violence.

The researchers wanted to know how the cataclysm in family life caused by the pandemic affected the use of discipline.

Many parents faced unprecedented challenges during the COVID-19 blockade, and probably in “survival mode”, they had to work from home, take care of the children, help the children with schoolwork and do everything else. to keep the household running, ā€¯Freistler said.

This study is one of the few that has asked parents to report levels of stress and the use of discipline in near real time, which gives a more accurate picture of what is happening than most previous studies that invite parents to remember events later. said Freistler.

The study included 323 parents of children ages 2 to 12 in central Ohio, including Columbus, who were hired online and by word of mouth.

At the beginning of the survey, each parent completed a core survey that included questions about their overall stress levels and parenting practices.

The researchers then asked parents to fill out a short survey on their smartphones three times a day for two weeks during orders to stay at COVID-19 in Ohio, from April 13 to May 27, 2020.

They were asked at 10 a.m., 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. on each of the 14 days to assess their current level of stress and report whether they had used various forms of discipline on any of their children in previous hours.

“Aggressive discipline is more common in surveys at 3pm and 9pm than in surveys at 10am,” she said. “Later in the day, stress builds up for parents and they may find it harder to control their reactions to their children’s misbehavior.”

Not surprisingly, Freistler said, parents who reported using aggressive discipline before the study began did not change their parenting practices. The results show that parents who report using aggressive discipline at least a few times a week in the baseline study are about three times more likely to report using aggressive discipline during the short studies.

An unexpected finding is that married parents are more likely to use aggressive discipline than single parents, Freistler said.

One possible explanation is that single parents may have had more experience balancing childcare needs with work. Or married couples may have had a conflict over balancing childcare requirements, which could translate into parental behavior, she said.

Freistler said participants in the study were better educated than the average population, which may have affected the results.

“We found these results in a population with probably more financial resources than most during COVID-19,” she said.

“Parents who do not have the economic and social resources may be at even greater risk of using rough parenting during this stressful period.


Reference in the magazine:

Freistler, B., et al. (2021) Daily stress and the use of aggressive discipline by parents during the COVID-19 pandemic. Magazine for Domestic Violence. doi.org/10.1007/s10896-021-00340-y.

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