The psychological effects of war trauma are well-documented, but comparatively little research has focused on the mechanisms underlying intergenerational impacts of war and displacement. Specifically, the effects of armed conflict on family processes such as parenting behavior, and subsequent impacts on child psychosocial outcomes, are less understood.
This study tests a conceptual model linking past war trauma and current displacement-related stressors to maternal mental health, parenting behavior, and child psychosocial problems. Cross-sectional data were collected in 2016–2017 from a sample of 291 Syrian refugee mothers in Lebanon. We used structural equation modeling to examine associations between war trauma, daily stressors, mothers’ general psychological distress and post-traumatic stress (PTS), negative parenting, and child psychosocial problems.
Exposure to war-related events was directly associated with maternal PTS and general psychological distress, as well as indirectly via daily stressors. Mothers’ general psychological distress, but not PTS, was directly associated with negative parenting and child psychosocial difficulties. Negative parenting mediated the association between maternal general psychological distress and child psychosocial problems. Model fit statistics indicate that the measurement and structural models provided a good fit to the data.
Results suggest that the adverse effects of past war trauma and ongoing displacement on refugee mothers’ general mental health can increase the risk of negative parenting behavior, and in turn contribute to poorer psychosocial outcomes for children. Interventions should focus on psychosocial and parenting support for war-affected caregivers, as well as address structural challenges that debilitate caregiver and child mental health.