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Keywords:

  • child anxiety;
  • child attributional style;
  • child depression;
  • child maltreatment;
  • corporal punishment;
  • physical discipline

The current study investigated differences in children's emotional functioning as a product of their parents' reported disciplinary practices and child abuse potential. Families with no known history of abuse were recruited to ascertain whether depressogenic attributional style and depressive or anxious symptomatology was evident in children of parents who used harsher physical punishment and who had higher abuse potential. Forty-two New Zealand children ages 8–12 participated with their parents. Child-report measures of depression, anxiety, and attributional style were compared with parents' responses on physical discipline scenarios and child abuse potential. Children's anxiety symptoms were higher in those children whose parents obtained higher abuse potential scores and had harsher discipline practices. Children's depressive symptoms and some components of maladaptive attributional style were also found in families with higher abuse potential. Results suggest emotional difficulties similar to those of maltreated children even without identifiable abuse.