According to a study published in Psychiatry Research, preteen girls with mothers that are extremely critical are more likely to partake in self-injury, for example, burning or cutting.
One of the authors of this study Kiera M. James of Binghamton University, states that her research focuses on thoughts and behaviors of self-harm amongst the youth and how interpersonal relationships (ex. guardian-child) affect the progression and conservation of these thoughts and behaviors.
Previous research shows that children with critical parents are more inclined to self injure. However, much of the current research on this topic focuses on adolescents. This, in turn, gained the interest of the researchers. They wanted to examine if patterns of self-injurious thoughts and behaviors are present in childhood.
The study consisted of 204 children aged 7 -11 and their mothers. The findings suggested that girls who experienced maternal criticism engaged in deliberate self-injurious behaviors more often. Sixty percent of the girls with critical mothers have a past of self-injury.
Maternal Criticism was determined by asking the mothers to talk about their child for five minutes non-stop. The researchers asked the mothers to describe their relationship with their child and how they get along. Each mother was recorded and the recordings were coded for levels of criticism.
The study concluded that girls with a critical mother were more likely to have a history of non-suicidal;self-harm unlike girls that did not have a critical mother. These findings are limited to girls. Amongst the boys, the findings were not significant.
The researchers used statistics to control for the influence of anxiety and depressive symptoms. While this study adds insight to this area of research there are always limitations.
Although the results were in favor of the hypothesis that maternal criticism increases the chance of girls self-injuring, this study is cross-sectional meaning that the findings are broad and were only taken at one point in time. So, this study ignores many factors. For example, the economical situation of the family, traumatic events etc.
In addition, this study concentrated on maternal criticism. Therefore, ignoring the impact of paternal criticism or criticism from other adults in the child’s life which could also be a contributing factor. This research would benefit from a study that examines the impact of positive messages or constructive criticism from the mother and how it impacts the child’s thoughts and behaviors of self-harm. This would give this study a comparison. In any case, the control of anxiety or depressive symptoms should be kept constant. Overall, this topic needs more research to uncover the many factors that lead to a child self-harming, but this is a great start.