The present study examined the differences in the attributions clinically angry, at-risk of child maltreatment parents (CA), and non-angry, not at-risk of child maltreatment parents (NA) make for parent-child interactions.
Participants were 82 families selected on the basis of having a child aged 2-7 years, where the parent had access to the child on part-time or full-time basis (at least 2 days per week). Participating families were asked to select one child in the targeted age range to be the focus of assessment for the research study.
There were significant differences between the CA and NA mothers' anger-intensifying attributional style for both negative and ambiguous negative child behaviour and anger-justifying attributions for negative parenting behaviour. The CA mothers reported an elevated level of anger-intensifying attributional style where the CA group tended to attribute negative and ambiguous negative child behaviour to internal and stable causes in the child and rated the behaviour as more intentional and blameworthy. CA mothers were also more likely to attribute blame to their child for their own negative parenting behaviour and perceive the reason for their behaviour was unlikely to change and that their behaviour was part of their personality (e.g. "That's the way I am. I yell and hit my children").
The study suggests that targeting parents' anger-intensifying and anger-justifying attributions may enhance outcomes in parenting interventions and reduce the risk of child maltreatment.