Parenting During COVID-19: Studies Say Harsh Parenting Backfires

As more parents are home with their children than ever before, it’s important to remember that we’re all going to be on edge and behaviors may be more exacerbated.

We wanted to revisit this study about harsh parenting, and encourage parents with some strategies to employ as they’re with their kids 24-7.

A recent study claimed ‘harsh’ parenting leads to greater high-school dropout rates and children engaging in unhealthy behaviors in their teens.

The nine-year study tracked 1,482 Maryland students (from seventh grade onwards), following them to three years past their expected high school graduation. The students were of various racial, geographic and socioeconomic backgrounds — all from households that practice harsh discipline.

Related: 8 Things You Need To Do RIGHT NOW To Fight COVID-19

The study revealed that harsh parenting — parenting that includes frequent yelling, threats and hitting — does much more damage than good.

Students who were raised by parents who practiced harsh parenting techniques were significantly more likely than their peers to behave in riskier ways, opposite to what their parents were trying to emphasize. These teens were engaged in more deviant behaviors like hanging out with friends instead of upholding school responsibilities or even engaging in sexual activity earlier than their peers.

By 11th grade, researchers found there was more delinquent behavior in boys and more sexual activity in girls — all were more likely to drop out of high school than their peers.

University of Pittsburgh researcher, Rochelle Hentges, said that as humans, we pay attention to the cues of our environment. When there is a lot of harsh, unpredictable behavior surrounding us, we intrinsically work to achieve immediate and short-term rewards. On the other hand, those in stable environments do not feel the need to act so impulsively, and are able to put their resources toward long-range goals like future success and education.

Related: Looking for a Positive Parenting Nudge? Try These 5 Awesome Apps

The researchers emphasize that supportive and productive communication is the way to ensure that your child really understands what your concerns and wishes for them are, and to offer the analogy of a tennis ball when it comes to parenting — be round and not break under pressure, but still be flexible and able to be bounced and squeezed. That flexibility in parenting could go a long way in terms of your child’s behavior and your relationship.

Tips To Parent Gently With The Tension Of COVID-19

The most important thing to do when parenting during COVID-19 isolation and sheltering in your home is to take some deep breaths and remember everything seems intensified during this time. Some simple tips may help bring some of the behaviors back to a ‘normal’ level, and let you parent more normally as well.

  • Make sure your kids aren’t bored. We know it’s HARD when they’re home and doing school and you may be working too, but when children are bored? They’re more likely to get into stuff and require your intervention in more things than typical. Chores are a great idea, as are lots of fine motor activities and skill-building. We love many of the tips from Integrated Learning Strategies.
  • Talk to them about what’s concerning them. Too often these days, WE are just trying to figure out what in the world is going on. Address the fears your children may have, and help them understand they are safe and you are protecting them.
  • Consider Time-Ins. Sometimes, children really just need our time. Even if it’s because they made a poor choice, the five-ten minutes you sit with them and talk to them about their behaviors can make so much more a difference than just putting them in a time-out on their own.
  • Ignore. Yes, we mean it. IGNORE. These days? Kids are probably going just as bonkers as we are, and as long as there’s not any danger in something?! Let natural consequences happen as best they can; your child throws her blueberries on the ground one at a time? No blueberries to eat. If you just make a general agreement with yourself to let some things slide during this tense time, you’re going to all be better for it in the long run.
  • Redirect. Honestly? Sometimes a kid will make a poor choice simply because they didn’t know a better choice. Don’t react with “What were you thinking????” because they may not have been. Redirect your child, telling them why their behavior choice wasn’t appropriate and give them appropriate choices from which they can choose.
  • Praise them. Now more than ever, it’s important to ‘catch them being good.’ We’ve got a lot of time in which we can form some great habits, and help our children to do so as well. Praise those behaviors you want to become habits!
  • Schedule time for them. Seriously. It sounds ridiculous and like something no good mother ever should, but let’s be real. We’re overwhelmed. So make sure you set clear expectations for your kids and let them know that you are purposely making time for them because they’re important and take precedence. We’re glued to our screens for information and connection now (sigh) so let them see that they rank and can count on that time with you.
  • Give yourself some grace. You’re doing the best you can, Mama. The love you give counts for a zillion times over the mistakes you make, and your child is proof when she gives you a big hug and a kiss five minutes after you scold her for pulling the cat’s tail for the millionth time. Kids really are resilient and they forgive easily. Do so with yourself.

Most importantly, if you feel like you’re moving into a ‘I’m losing my mind,’ situation, contact another mama friend or family member for a breather. You’re most likely not alone, and encouraging one another is how we’ll get through this.

4 thoughts on “Parenting During COVID-19: Studies Say Harsh Parenting Backfires”

  1. Thank you so much for this article. I have been trying to stress this online and in college.

    People say, oh I turned out just fine, but really did you really. Are you aware of the psychological concepts that will tell you if you really turned out okay from being treated the way it is traditional to be treated as a child. Are you actually comfortable with yourself. Would you want your child to feel the way your parents made you feel.

    I know for a fact I did not and the last 5 years I have been building myself up and learning about myself.

  2. I am really loving all the research on positive parenting! I think our children deserve the best treatment that helps set them up for future success… both interpersonally and in their endeavors.
    So many parents get caught in generational cycles of poor parenting strategies that it’s hard to break free of these cycles. I hope that research like this and subsequent information on better parenting practices help to start changing the way children are raised!

  3. learning can give us a great sense of personal achievement and fulfilment in our lives. if you are a busy mom you might be looking something that would help your child to improve their learning and you can also monitor their learning progress as a parent, please check is site (

  4. The poor parenting I received has certainly affected my outcome. I have a very strained relationship with my Mother, who used to lose control and slap me in the face to try and gain control over us. I have bad memories of her and my childhood with her was infused with installing fear over love. I hate her for that.

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