Everything in Moderation: Emotional Distance in the Parent-Child Relationship and Child Maltreatment Risk

Open Access
Okado, Yuko
Graduate Program:
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
December 19, 2008
Committee Members:
  • Karen Linn Bierman, Thesis Advisor
  • Sandra T Azar, Thesis Advisor
  • risk
  • parenting
  • child maltreatment
  • emotional reactivity
One’s risk for perpetrating child maltreatment is believed to be affected by the parentchild relationship in one’s family of origin. Drawing from literatures on parenting and child maltreatment, the current study examined whether growing up in an enmeshed or disengaged relationship with one’s mother, hence a relationship characterized by extreme amounts of emotional distance, increased one’s risk of child maltreatment perpetration. As hypothesized, both low and high emotional distance predicted child abuse potential and unrealistic expectations of children. In addition, emotional reactivity was found to mediate the relationship between extreme emotional distance and child abuse potential and directly predict unrealistic expectations of children, whereas empathy was not found to be a mediator. In addition, the study found that extreme amounts of emotional distance had an impact on child abuse potential over and above a history of childhood maltreatment, and history of childhood maltreatment predicted unrealistic expectations of children.