Maternal anger and harsh discipline in relation to child emotion regulation, externalizing, and internalizing problems

Joanna L Fava, Fordham University


Previous research has largely focused on the effects of maternal depression on child maladjustment. The present study aimed to expand the literature by investigating the influence of maternal anger on child outcomes. Further, as anger has been shown to influence disciplinary styles and lead to harsher forms of punishment, mother's potential for punitive punishment as well as her use of psychological and physical aggression were assessed. This study sought to illustrate the unique contributions of anger, punitiveness, and disciplinary practices on child internalizing and externalizing problems, and to demonstrate whether these effects were mediated by the child's level of emotion dysregulation. In addition, gender differences in these relationships were considered to determine whether maternal behaviors have a unique impact on boys versus girls. The study's variables were assessed using validated and reliable self-report measures completed by mothers in the study. These measures were the Novaco Anger Scale, Parental Punitiveness Scale, Parent-Child Conflict-Tactics Scale, Emotion Regulation Checklist, and the Child Behavior Checklist. Participants included 180 mother-child dyads recruited from a large, urban hospital. The mean age of mothers was 37.4 years (SD = 6.5) and children ranged from 8-15 years old (M = 11.5, SD = 1.9). A large majority of the sample was African-American (71.1%) or Hispanic (19.4%) and a substantial number of participants had either past or current involvement with the child welfare system (40.5%). Results were analyzed using independent-sample t-tests, partial correlations, hierarchical regressions, and path analysis with percentile bootstrapping. After controlling for the effects of SES, which was significantly related to the child outcomes, maternal anger was significantly associated with emotion dysregulation, internalizing and externalizing problems in children, and the effects on internalizing and externalizing problems were partially mediated by emotion dysregulation. Maternal use of psychological aggression had a direct influence on child internalizing and externalizing problems, rather than an indirect effect through emotion dysregulation. Much of the previous literature focuses on parental use of physical discipline, however, the current study illustrates that psychological aggression may have more detrimental effects on child maladjustment in older children. These findings carry important implications for research and clinical practice.

Subject Area

Clinical psychology

Recommended Citation

Fava, Joanna L, "Maternal anger and harsh discipline in relation to child emotion regulation, externalizing, and internalizing problems" (2012). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3563399.