Washington, Aug 5 : Parents who are verbally aggressive towards their kids' during playtime and other daily activities may actually be undermining kids' self-esteem and making them less cooperative, says a new Purdue University study.
"It's hard to tell parents how to interact with their children based on one study, but what we see here is that parents who have a propensity for being verbally aggressive have a tendency to try to direct and control their children during a play period," said Steven R. Wilson, a professor of communication who specializes in family issues.
"As a result, these children were less cooperative, and not only are parents setting up situations that are challenging for them to handle, but they also are subtly undermining their child's self-esteem," he added.
Wilson and Felicia Roberts, an associate professor of communication, are lead authors of a study that appears in the July issue of Human Communication Research journal. n the study, the research team videotaped 40 mothers as they played with one of their children, ages 3-8, during a 10-minute, unstructured play period. The mothers also completed a series of questionnaires to assess their general tendency to be verbally aggressive toward others. For example, someone who is verbally aggressive is likely to insult others as a way to motivate them to comply or behave.
From the analysis, the researchers found that mothers who were high in the general tendency to be verbally aggressive often tried to take control of the play period. For example, the four mothers with the highest verbal aggression scores on average were attempting to direct their child's actions once every 12 seconds, while the four mothers with the lowest verbal aggression scores tried to do so only about half as often.
In addition to verbally aggressive mothers telling a child to play with a different toy or to stop playing, they also used negative body language, such as restraining a child by the wrist or shoulder, to reinforce their commands.
"Of course all parents direct their children, and people in general are always directing others to close a door or hand them something," said Roberts, who has a background in linguistics and is a conversational analyst.
"It's something we do all the time. But there is a qualitative difference in the kinds of directing going on by these verbally aggressive mothers.
By looking at how and when directives occurred, not just how often, we found that moms who scored highest on verbal aggression used directives to control the child and, ultimately, the way the game or activity was played. The aggressive action is not overt, as in a parent hitting or yelling, but these small negative maneuvers can say so much to a child," Roberts added.