Mothers-to-be who believe infants dirty their diapers to
bother their parents or purposefully ignore their mothers may be more likely to
abuse or neglect their young children, a new study suggests.
US researchers found that 8% of about 500 babies born in a
small Southeastern city had at least one alleged or substantiated child abuse
or neglect case on record. But that grew to 15% of infants born to women who
scored the highest on a measure of "hostile attributions" during
It wasn't clear whether it was the mothers who were
responsible for the maltreatment. But researchers said the study could still
help doctors spot which women might need extra help when expecting a new
baby."I think abusive parents often see (hostile intent) when it's not
there," said Joel Milner, from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.
misperceive the child behaviour
"They can misperceive the child's behaviour as being
intentionally annoying," Milner said."When people are annoying us... we tend to
be hostile and aggressive in return.
They are more likely to view the child in a negative
way."Lisa Berlin from the University of Maryland School of Social Work in
Baltimore and her colleagues recruited 499 women from public and private
prenatal care offices and interviewed them midway through their pregnancies.
The women were asked about both positive and negative
intentions of infants, such as, "Do babies seek praise when they do
something clever?" and "Do babies ignore their mothers to be
annoying?" The researchers ranked women's answers on a scale from 1 to 5,
where 5 indicated the most hostile attributions for babies.
Then, using Child Protective Services (CPS) records,
Berlin's team calculated that each 1-point increase on that scale was tied to a
26% greater chance that a child would be abused or neglected by about age two.
Four percent of babies born to women with the lowest, most positive prenatal
attribution score had a CPS report, compared to 15% of those whose mothers
scored highest, with the most negative views.
Kids who were victims
of child abuse
Women with more hostile attribution were also more likely to
report yelling at or spanking their child on a follow-up phone interview, the
researchers reported this week in JAMA Pediatrics. According to the US
Department of Health & Human Services, about 675 000 kids were reported as
victims of child abuse or neglect in 2011 - just under 1% of children
Berlin and her colleagues said doctors can assess how
mothers and mothers-to-be view babies' intentions and start a discussion or
refer women to parenting services if they perceive a problem. Milner cautioned,
however, that there's not an easy way to address hints of future abuse among
Trying to convince someone that babies don't have hostile
intentions doesn't necessarily work. Instead, he said, one option could be
using mindfulness techniques to encourage parents not to act on anger they feel
toward a child."We're still trying to figure out what the best
interventions are," Milner said.