Spare the rod and save the child: Assessing the impact of parenting on child behaviour and mental health

Parenting has a considerable impact on children’s behaviour and mental health. Improving child health and behaviour requires an understanding of the relationship between parenting practices; contexual factors such as parental mental health, intimate partner violence, substance abuse and poverty; and children’s behaviour. In this article the authors report the findings of a survey of parenting and child behaviour in a small rural South African community. The findings show that corporal punishment, the stress of parenting and parental mental health are significantly associated with both children’s internalising (depression and anxiety) and externalising (rulebreaking and aggression) symptoms. Intimate partner violence in the home was also associated with children’s externalising symptoms. These findings imply that parent support and training, and an increase in services to address intimate partner violence and mental health problems, should be prioritised as part of a national violence reduction strategy.