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

  • Catherine L Ward University of Cape Town
  • Chandré Gould Institute for Security Studies
  • Jane Kelly University of Cape Town
  • Katya Mauff University of Cape Town; University of Rotterdam
Keywords: parenting, children, mental health, parenting practices, intimate partner violence, South Africa, corporal punishment


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.

Author Biographies

Catherine L Ward, University of Cape Town

Department of Psychology and the Safety and Violence Initiative at the University of Cape Town

Chandré Gould, Institute for Security Studies

Governance, Crime and Justice Programme 

Jane Kelly, University of Cape Town
Department of Psychology
Katya Mauff, University of Cape Town; University of Rotterdam
Department of Statistical Sciences
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Research articles