Maternal depression and in-home violence are independently associated with the use of physical punishment on children; however, the combined impact of these factors on the practice of physical punishment is unknown, as is the extent to which their relationship to physical punishment varies with child behavior.
1) Determine the combined impact of maternal depression and violence exposure on one physical punishment practice, smacking; 2) Explore the role of child behaviors in this relationship.
Multivariable regression analysis of a nationally representative sample of US kindergarten children. Maternal depressive symptoms, violence exposure, and use of smacking as a discipline technique were measured by parent interview. Child behaviors were reported by teachers.
12,764 mother-child dyads were included in the analysis. The adjusted odds ratio (aOR) for smacking among mothers with depressive symptoms was 1.59 (95% CI 1.40, 1.80); among mothers exposed to in-home violence, 1.48 (95% CI 1.18, 1.85); among dually exposed mothers, 2.51 (95% CI 1.87, 3.37). Adjusting these models for child self-control or externalizing behavior yielded no change in these associations, and no effect modification by child behavior was detected. Among mothers reporting to smack their children, depression was associated with an increased smacking frequency (aIRR 1.12; 95% CI 1.01, 1.24); however, this association was reduced to borderline significance when adjusting the models for child self-control or externalizing behavior (aIRRs 1.10; 95% CI 1.00, 1.21). Depressed mothers who were also exposed to violence demonstrated higher rates of smacking (aIRR 1.29; 95% CI 1.09, 1.53); this remained stable when adjusting for child behaviors.
Maternal depression and violence exposure are associated with smacking as a means of punishment. The magnitude of this association is increased when depression and violence occur together. When coexistent, they also appear associated with the frequency of smacking. Child self-control and externalizing behavior do not appear to impact substantially the association between maternal depressive symptoms, violence exposure, and smacking.