Intergenerational effects of childhood maltreatment: A systematic review of the parenting practices of adult survivors of childhood abuse, neglect, and violence

Clinical Psychology Review

Carolyn A. Greene, Lauren Haisley, Cara Wallace & Julian D. Forda


A history of maltreatment in childhood may influence adults’ parenting practices, potentially affecting their children. This systematic review examines 97 studies investigating associations of parental childhood victimization with a range of parenting behaviors that may contribute to the intergenerational effects of abuse: abusive parenting, problematic parenting, positive parenting, and positive parental affect. Key findings include: (1) parents who report experiencing physical abuse or witnessing violence in the home during childhood are at increased risk for reporting that they engage in abusive or neglectful parenting; (2) a cumulative effect of maltreatment experiences, such that adults who report experiencing multiple types or repeated instances of victimization are at greatest risk for perpetrating child abuse; (3) associations between reported childhood maltreatment experiences and parents’ problematic role reversal with, rejection of, and withdrawal from their children; (4) indirect effects between reported childhood maltreatment and abusive parenting via adult intimate partner violence; and (5) indirect effects between reported childhood maltreatment and lower levels of positive parenting behaviors and affect via mothers’ mental health. Thus, childhood experiences of maltreatment may alter parents’ ability to avoid negative and utilize positive parenting practices. Limitations of this body of literature include few prospective studies, an overreliance on adults’ self-report of their childhood victimization and current parenting, and little examination of potentially differential associations for mothers and fathers.

Keywords: Childhood maltreatment, Parenting practices, Intergenerational transmission

Received 13 September 2019, Revised 22 June 2020, Accepted 20 July 2020, Available online 23 July 2020.

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