Harsh Parental Discipline, Parent-Child Attachment, and Peer Attachment in Late Childhood and Early Adolescence

Abstract

This research aimed to examine the relations among harsh discipline (including psychological aggression and corporal punishment), parent-child attachment, and peer attachment. More specifically, two mediation models (one for psychological aggression, one for corporal punishment) were investigated in which father-child attachment and mother-child attachment were hypothesized to mediate the relations between both paternal and maternal harsh discipline and peer attachment. In addition, differences across gender of the mediation model were examined. Participants were 668 children in grades four to eight and both their parents in China. The Chinese version of Parent-Child Conflict Tactics Scale (CTSPC) and the Inventory of Parent and Peer Attachment (IPPA) were used as the main assessment tools to measure parental use of harsh discipline, parent-child attachment, and peer attachment. Findings revealed that the direct path from neither fathers’ nor mothers’ harsh discipline to peer attachment was significant. Harsh discipline by one parent was indirectly related to peer attachment through the attachment between this parent and the child, but not through the attachment between his/her spouse and the child. In addition, the direct and indirect relations between harsh parental discipline and peer attachment did not differ across child gender. The findings provided an important supplement and extension to previous examinations of the factors associated with peer attachment and its mechanisms. In addition, the results also suggested the need for intervention programs aiming at improving children’s peer relationships to take the parenting and parent-child relationships into account.

Highlights

  • The direct effects of harsh parental discipline on peer attachment were not significant.

  • Harsh discipline by one parent was indirectly related to peer attachment through the attachment between this parent and the child, but not through the attachment between his/her spouse and the child.

  • The direct and indirect relations between harsh parental discipline and peer attachment did not differ across child gender.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by Capacity Building for Sci-Tech Innovation Service-Fundamental Scientific Research Funds (SK2020PT04) awarded to Meifang Wang. We are grateful to all the children, parents, and teachers who participated or contributed to this project.

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Correspondence to Meifang Wang.

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Wang, F., Wang, M., Wang, T. et al. Harsh Parental Discipline, Parent-Child Attachment, and Peer Attachment in Late Childhood and Early Adolescence. J Child Fam Stud 30, 196–205 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-020-01860-9

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Keywords

  • Harsh parental discipline
  • Parent-child attachment
  • Peer attachment
  • Gender differences
  • Late childhood and early adolescence