Psychological and physical intimate partner violence and young children's mental health: The role of maternal posttraumatic stress symptoms and parenting behaviors

Child Abuse Negl. 2018 Mar;77:168-179. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2018.01.012. Epub 2018 Jan 19.


Young children are at significant risk of exposure to intimate partner violence (IPV), and vulnerable to exposure-related psychopathology, yet few studies investigate the effects of exposure to IPV on children under the age of 5 years. The current study investigated the role of maternal PTSD symptoms and parenting strategies in the relationship between mothers' IPV experiences and psychopathology in their young children, ages 3-6 years in a community-based cohort of 308 mother-child dyads at high risk for family violence. Data were collected from 2011 to 2014. IPV history and maternal PTSD symptoms were assessed by self-report questionnaires. Children's symptoms were assessed with a developmentally-sensitive psychiatric interview administered to mothers. Punitive/restrictive parenting was independently-coded from in-depth interviews with mothers about their disciplinary practices. Hypothesized direct and indirect pathways between physical and psychological IPV, maternal PTSD, maternal parenting style, and children's internalizing and externalizing symptoms were examined with mediation models. Results indicated that neither physical nor psychological IPV experienced by mothers was directly associated with children's symptoms. However, both types of victimization were associated with maternal PTSD symptoms. Examination of indirect pathways suggested that maternal PTSD symptoms mediated the relationship between mothers' psychological and physical IPV experiences and children's internalizing and externalizing symptoms and mothers' restrictive/punitive parenting mediated the relationship between mothers' psychological IPV and children's externalizing symptoms. In addition, there was a path from maternal physical IPV to child externalizing symptoms through both maternal PTSD symptoms and restrictive/punitive parenting. Findings highlight the importance of supporting parents in recovering from the sequelae of their own traumatic experiences, as their ensuing mental health symptoms and parenting behaviors may have a significant impact on their children's emotional health.

Keywords: Developmental psychopathology; Early childhood; Intimate partner violence; Parenting style; Posttraumatic stress disorder.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Crime Victims / psychology
  • Domestic Violence / psychology
  • Exposure to Violence
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intimate Partner Violence / psychology*
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • Mothers / psychology
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders / psychology*
  • Parenting / psychology
  • Physical Examination
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*