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Child maltreatment and harsh parenting both include harmful actions by parents toward children that are physical (e.g., spanking, slapping) or emotional (e.g., threatening, yelling). The distinction between these two constructs, in meaning and measurement, is often unclear, leading to inconsistent research and policy. This study systematically identified, reviewed, and compared parent-reported child maltreatment (N = 7) and harsh parenting (N = 18) instruments. The overlap in parenting behaviors was 73%. All physical behaviors that were measured in harsh parenting instruments (e.g., spanking, beating up) were also measured in child maltreatment instruments. Unique physical behaviors measured in maltreatment instruments include twisting body parts and choking. All emotional behaviors in maltreatment instruments were included in harsh parenting instruments, and vice versa. Our findings suggest similar, but not identical, operationalizations of child maltreatment and harsh parenting. Our findings can help guide discussions on definitions, operationalizations, and their consequences for research on violence against children.

Original publication




Journal article


Trauma, Violence and Abuse: a review journal


SAGE Publications

Publication Date