Positive parent–child interactions moderate certain maltreatment effects on psychosocial well-being in 6-year-old children

Shan, W., Zhang, Y., Zhao, J., Wu, S., Zhao, L., Ip, P., Tucker, J. D., & Jiang, F. (2024). Positive parent–child interactions moderate certain maltreatment effects on psychosocial well-being in 6-year-old children. Pediatric Research, 95, 802-808. doi:10.1038/s41390-023-02842-5.
Background: Positive parental interactions may buffer maltreated children from poor psychosocial outcomes. The study aims to evaluate the associations between various types of maltreatment and psychosocial outcomes in early childhood, and examine the moderating effect of positive parent-child interactions on them.

Methods: Data were from a representative Chinese 6-year-old children sample (n = 17,088). Caregivers reported the history of child maltreatment perpetrated by any individuals, completed the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire as a proxy for psychosocial well-being, and reported the frequency of their interactions with children by the Chinese Parent-Child Interaction Scale.

Results: Physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse were all associated with higher odds of psychosocial problems (aOR = 1.90 [95% CI: 1.57-2.29], aOR = 1.92 [95% CI: 1.75-2.10], aOR = 1.64 [95% CI: 1.17-2.30], aOR = 2.03 [95% CI: 1.30-3.17]). Positive parent-child interactions were associated with lower odds of psychosocial problems after accounting for different types of maltreatment. The moderating effect of frequent parent-child interactions was found only in the association between occasional only physical abuse and psychosocial outcomes (interaction term: aOR = 0.34, 95% CI: 0.15-0.77).

Conclusions: Maltreatment and positive parent-child interactions have impacts on psychosocial well-being in early childhood. Positive parent-child interactions could only buffer the adverse effect of occasional physical abuse on psychosocial outcomes. More frequent parent-child interactions may be an important intervention opportunity among some children.

Impact: It provides the first data on the prevalence of different single types and combinations of maltreatment in early childhood in Shanghai, China by drawing on a city-level population-representative sample. It adds to evidence that different forms and degrees of maltreatment were all associated with a higher risk of psychosocial problems in early childhood. Among them, sexual abuse posed the highest risk, followed by emotional abuse. It innovatively found that higher frequencies of parent-child interactions may provide buffering effects only to children who are exposed to occasional physical abuse. It provides a potential intervention opportunity, especially for physically abused children.
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