Adverse Childhood Experiences Can Lead to Poor Behaviors As Parents


These experiences can impact mental health, which can mediate parenting behaviors like inconsistent discipline.

Previous studies have shown that parental adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can disrupt mental health and lead to psychopathology in the child. However, findings from a new study suggest that parental ACEs—although they are associated with poor mental health outcomes—may be directly associated with parenting behaviors, according to the results of a study that was published in Acta Psychologica.

Image Credit: Adobe Stock - Lumos sp

Image Credit: Adobe Stock - Lumos sp

“Childhood adversity and toxic stress can lead to lifelong impairments in mental health by disrupting the developing brain architecture, the development of stress response systems, learning process, and adaptive responses,” wrote study authors in the paper.

In context, these parental ACEs can make a parent less emotionally available, prone to using harsh or ineffective disciplining strategies on children, and more likely to use problematic practices such as physical punishment, according to previous studies.

In this paper, investigators researched the link between parental ACEs and parenting behavior in a cohort of parents from Chiang Mai, Thailand. As part of the study, investigators also evaluated the mediating role of parental mental health on this link, alongside studying the prevalence of ACEs among parents. In this study population, 62.5 % of parents were shown to have an ACE; these percentages could be relevant to other populations though— for instance, the prevalence of ADC in the United States is 63.9 %, according to recent CDC study.

A path analysis and correlation analysis were used to evaluate the association between ACEs, poor mental health, and parenting behaviors. Investigators observed that ACEs can have an immediate impact on mental health outcomes (depression, anxiety, and stress [β = 0.19, 0.21, 0.18 respectively]).

Investigators further evaluated the direct and indirect effects of ACEs and mental health on parenting behaviors. They evaluated these effects within 5 dimensions of parenting: parental involvement, positive parenting, parental monitoring/supervision, inconsistent discipline, and use of corporal punishment.

Parental ACEs were directly associated with use of corporal punishment (β = 0.15). ACEs had a direct impact on the other dimensions, but the impact was not statistically significant. In addition, stress was directly and positively associated with an inconsistent discipline style of parenting (β = 0.18), although it may be difficult to conclude that parental stress is associated with inconsistent discipline.

Other mental health outcomes such as depression and anxiety were not significantly linked to any of the parenting dimensions, although other factors can mediate parenting behavior, such as attachment style, confidence, child temperament and behaviors, and their relationship to a partner.

Investigators also performed a sex-based analysis, and females were more likely to be associated with positive parenting and corporal punishment compared with men. More research should evaluate the influence of sex of parenting practices.

“The results from this study highlight the importance of assessing and providing interventions to parents having a history of ACEs and poor mental health, to improve the quality of parenting and mitigate the intergenerational transmission of ACEs to their children,” authors wrote.


Wattanatchariya K, Narkpongphun A, Kawilapat S. The relationship between parental adverse childhood experiences and parenting behaviors. Acta Psych. 2024(243). doi:10.1016/j.actpsy.2024.104166

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