Mothers’ Self-Confidence Could Break Cycle of Abuse

Mother holds a baby in a field of poppiesMothers who were abused in childhood are less likely to abuse their children when they feel confident in their parenting, a study published in Child Maltreatment suggests.

Many people assume parents who experienced abuse as children are more likely to continue the cycle of abuse with their own children. The study found that these parents were indeed more likely to abuse their children, with 7% of abused parents abusing their kids, compared to 5% of parents who had never been abused.

The Connection Between Self-Criticism and Abuse

Researchers recruited a group of low-income mothers. Some mothers had clinical depression, while others had never been depressed. Researchers found that mothers who had experienced more types of abuse—sexual, physical, psychological, neglect, or some combination of all of these—as children were more likely to be highly critical of themselves. This self-criticism was shown to increase doubt about their ability to be good parents.

Previous research suggests that mothers who are more self-critical are less motivated to use positive parenting strategies and more likely to yell, hit, or otherwise mistreat their children, the study’s authors say. In the current study, researchers found mothers with higher confidence in their parenting skills are more likely to enact learned positive parenting skills, and therefore less likely to abuse their children.

Programs for Ending Child Abuse

Teachers, law enforcement officials, and other adults referred 3.7 million children to authorities for child abuse investigation in 2011, with a fifth of these reports—about 740,000—substantiated as child abuse, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Though the study did not directly test programs for ending child abuse, its authors say the research provides promising information about which programs might work. Many parenting education classes are instructional in nature, teaching basic skills such as changing a diaper or coaxing a baby to sleep.

It may be more important for mothers who were abused as children to focus on boosting their confidence, and previous research has found that a mother’s confidence in her own parenting can be modified. Programs that accomplish this could prevent future children’s exposure to abuse.


  1. Child welfare outcomes 2008-2011 report to Congress [PDF]. (2011). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families Administration on Children, Youth and Families Children’s Bureau.
  2. Confidence in parenting could help break cycle of abuse. (2015, August 28). Retrieved from
  3. Michl, L. C., Handley, E. D., Rogosch, F., Cicchetti, D., & Toth, S. L. (2015). Self-Criticism as a mechanism linking childhood maltreatment and maternal efficacy beliefs in low-income mothers with and without depression. Child Maltreatment. Doi:10.1177/1077559515602095
  4. Norton, A. (2015, March 26). Abused kids not destined to be abusive parents, study finds. Retrieved from

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  • Bert

    September 2nd, 2015 at 11:11 AM

    Great theory, but the problem that I tend to see with this is that those who were abused are not going to have had a great parenting role model themselves.
    Therefore the question then becomes how are they to develop trust and confidence in their parenting when they have not had anyone model that for them?
    I do think that it can be done because there are people who are lucky enough at some point to find surrogates for those things that they missed out on in their own childhood, but I am just saying that the road ahead will be a tough one.

  • Rene

    September 4th, 2015 at 7:55 AM

    Just because you were abused as a child does not necessarily mean that this is what you are going to do, it may just mean that you have to work a little harder to prevent it.

  • cassie

    September 5th, 2015 at 11:31 AM

    then I would say that this is something that has to be begun with these women even before they reach child bearing age. I am all for increasing the confidence of women with children because I do agree that the stronger these women are emotionally then the better parent and provider that they then have the ability to be for their children. This is not always going to be the case and there are still too many times where the circle doesn’t go unbroken because they do not have the tools and resources available to them that could help make their lives better or to increase their level of education about what it takes to be a good parent to their children.

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