Preliminary research early in the COVID-19 pandemic suggested children appeared to be at increased risk for child maltreatment, particularly as parents struggled with mental health and economic strains. Such strains were likely to influence parental emotions about their children, affecting their parent-child interactions to contribute to elevated maltreatment risk. To identify the potential affective elements that may contribute to such increased maltreatment risk, the current study focused on whether maternal worry about children’s behavior specifically as well as maternal anger were related to increased risk for neglect or physical or psychological aggression six months into the pandemic.
The racially diverse sample included 193 mothers who completed an online survey during the COVID-19 pandemic in late September-early October 2020.
Mothers’ reported increases in neglect and physical and psychological aggression during the pandemic were significantly related with established measures of maltreatment risk. Furthermore, path models indicated that maternal anger and worry about children’s behavior, as well as their interaction, were significantly related to indicators of physical aggression risk and neglect during the pandemic, but only maternal anger related to increased psychological aggression during the pandemic.
Maternal worry and anger about children’s behavior may have exacerbated risk for maltreatment under the stressful conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Findings suggest affective reactions of both parental worry and anger focused on child behavior warrants greater empirical attention and consideration in intervention efforts both during the pandemic and potentially post-pandemic.