Tag Archives: discipline

Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child? The Unexpected Way Religious Beliefs Influence Parents’ Views of Discipline

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This is the seventh in a series of weekly blog posts addressing discipline and parenting practices. In this series, we will explore reasons that parents choose among discipline approaches, the science behind those techniques, and alternative approaches to discipline.

 

By Cindy Miller-Perrin, PhD (Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Pepperdine University)

 

How do religious beliefs impact parents’ positions on the use of physical discipline with their children?

 

Parents’ support for using physical punishment with their children varies, to some degree, by religious affiliation. Both the United Methodist Church and the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, USA, for example, have passed resolutions encouraging parents to avoid the use of physical punishment in favor of other forms of discipline. Members of other faith traditions such as the Jewish, Catholic, and Mormon faiths appear to have also either discouraged or prohibited the use of physical punishment with children.

Conservative Protestants, on the other hand, represent one faith tradition where physical punishment of children is sometimes recommended and encouraged. Conservative Protestants are significantly more likely than parents of other religious backgrounds to support and practice corporal punishment. This support of corporal punishment is largely based on conservative beliefs that the Bible is inerrant and should be interpreted literally.

In addition, many Conservative Protestants believe that children are prone to egocentrism and sinfulness at birth and therefore the parent must shape the will of the inherently rebellious child. From this perspective, the child’s submission serves as a model for their future relationship with God.

 

Are Christian parents biblically mandated to spank their children?

 

Does the Bible teach parents to spank their children? The routinely repeated phrase ‘‘spare the rod, spoil the child’’ does not actually appear in the Bible. Instead, it is a popularized paraphrase of several verses in Proverbs. Four of the most commonly cited verses include the following from the New International Version:

He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him. (Proverbs 13:24)

Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far away. (Proverbs 22:15)

Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die. Punish them with the rod and save them from death. (Proverbs 23:13–14)

Blows and wounds cleanse away evil, and beatings purge the inmost being. (Proverbs 20:30)

The important question, of course, is whether these passages should be interpreted as a mandate to spank, and whether the growing empirical research that spanking does more harm than good should contribute to the conversation.

For many progressive Christians and biblical scholars (including many Conservative Protestant scholars), the Bible should be read with an understanding of the cultural context in which its passages were written. Children in the ancient world were devalued, and often mistreated. Infanticide was not uncommon. They also lived in a world where violence was understood as the only disciplinary tool. The phrase “time out” does not appear in the Bible!

Given their lowly status in the ancient world, and the role of violence in that world, it is not surprising that the writer of Proverbs (presumably King Solomon) would have spoken of the “rod of discipline.” Once we understand this context, the passages take on new meaning. They are actually meant to place limits on violence in a world in which the weak and powerless, including children and slaves, were sometimes violently mistreated. It is also important to note that Jesus never advocated for physical discipline of children.

Both the Old and New Testaments clearly speak of disciplining children, but spanking and physical punishment are not synonymous with discipline. Today we know that there are other ways to discipline children, with many alternative methods empirically supported as more effective and less potentially harmful than spanking. Considering the Bible’s attempt to regulate and control physical violence during its time, it seems reasonable to argue that a modern day reading of the scriptures should not be interpreted as an endorsement of physical punishment.

 

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So, what goes into positive Christian parenting?

 

There are many positive findings associated with Christian parenting that suggest that Christian beliefs and parenting can be combined to be effective without the use of physical discipline. The belief that the Bible is God’s true word and that it has answers to important human problems, for example, has been positively associated with praise and hugs.

Sanctification of parenting, or the belief that parenting holds spiritual significance, is associated with:

  • increased consistency in responding to child misbehavior,
  • less use of verbal aggression,
  • increased frequency of praising a child’s behavior and character,
  • greater emphasis on the importance of moral responsibility,
  • greater investment in parenting,
  • sharing more positive memories with one’s child, and
  • having a greater emotional tie with one’s child.

Key factors associated with favorable Christian parenting appear to relate to both parental faith-based actions and beliefs. For example, parents who identify their religious affiliation as Conservative Protestant report more frequent use of physical punishment than parents of other faiths. However, parents who attend religious services report less frequent physical punishment than parents who do not attend religious services, once religious affiliation has been accounted for statistically. 

In addition, interpreting religious content symbolically rather than literally has been associated with positive parenting qualities such as:

  • being supportive toward children and their independence,
  • exerting little psychological control over children, and
  • stressing the importance of the child developing a sense of self, contributing to the community, and building friendships.

 

References:

 

Abelow, B. J. (2011). The shaping of New Testament narrative and salvation teachings by painful childhood experience. Archive for the Psychology of Religion, 33(1), 1-54.

Ellison, C. G., & Bradshaw, M. (2009). Religious beliefs, sociopolitical ideology, and attitudes toward corporal punishment. Journal of Family Issues, 30, 320-340.

Ellison, C. G., Musick, M. A., & Holden, G. W. (2011). Does Conservative Protestantism moderate the association between corporal punishment and child outcomes? Journal of Marriage and Family, 73, 946-961.

Fréchette, S., & Romano, E. (2015). Change in corporal punishment over time in a representative sample of Canadian parents. Journal of Family Psychology, 29, 507-517.

General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, USA. (2012, July 6). General Assembly adopts wide range of social justice issues. Retrieved from: http://www.pcusa.org/news/2012/7/6/general-assembly-adopts-wide-range-social-justice-/

Gershoff, E. T. (2013). Spanking and child development: We know enough now to stop hitting our children. Child Development Perspectives, 7(3), 2013, 133–137.

Gershoff, E. T., & Grogan-Kaylor, A. (2016a). Corporal punishment by parents and its consequences for children: Old controversies and new meta-analyses. Journal of Family Psychology, 30, 453-469.

Ingram, C. (n.d.). The biblical approach to spanking. Focus on the Family. Retrieved from http://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/effective-biblical-discipline/effective-childdiscipline/biblical-approach-to-spanking

Gershoff, E. T., Miller, P. C., & Holden, G. W. (1999). Parenting influences from the pulpit: Religious affiliation as a determinant of parental corporal punishment. Journal of Family Psychology, 13, 307-320.

Greven, P. (1991). Spare the Child: The Religious Roots of Punishment and the Psychological Impact of Physical Abuse. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Grogan-Kaylor, A., & Otis, M. D. (2007). The predictors of parental use of corporal punishment. Family Relations, 56, 80-91.

Miller-Perrin, C.L., & Krumrei Mancuso, E. (2015). Why faith matters: A positive psychology perspective. Dordrecht: Springer.

Nolan, B. (2011, Feb 27). Corporal punishment at St. Augustine is morally troubling, New Orleans archbishop says. The Times-Picayune. Retrieved from http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2011/02/corporal_punishment_at_st_aug.html

Perrin, R., Miller-Perrin, C., & Song, J. (in press). Changing attitudes about spanking using alternative biblical interpretations. International Journal of Behavioral Development.

Petts, R. J. (2012). Single mothers’ religious participation and early childhood behavior. Journal of Marriage and Family, 74, 251-268.

Swan, R. (2007). Corporal punishment, religious attitudes toward. In N. A. Jackson (Ed.), The encyclopedia of domestic violence (pp. 205- 208). New York, NY: Routledge.

Taylor, C. A., Lee, S. J., Guterman, N. B., & Rice, J. C. (2010). Use of spanking for 3-year-old children and associated intimate partner aggression or violence. Pediatrics, 126, 415-424.

United Methodist Church. (2008). Discipline children without corporal punishment (Social Principles, 162C).

The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church – 2008. Retrieved from: http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/discipline-children-without-corporal-punishment

 

Biography:

Dr. Cindy Miller-Perrin earned her PhD in Clinical Psychology from Washington State University and is currently Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Pepperdine University. She enjoys teaching undergraduates and is the recipient of the 2008 Howard A. White Award for Teaching Excellence at Pepperdine. She is a licensed clinical psychologist who has worked with maltreated, developmentally delayed, and other troubled children and their families.  Dr. Miller-Perrin has authored numerous journal articles and book chapters covering a range of topics, including physical punishment, child maltreatment, family violence, and vocation and life purpose.  She has co-authored four books, including Why Faith Matters: A Positive Psychology Perspective (with E. Krumrei, 2014), Family Violence Across the Lifespan (with O. Barnett & R. Perrin, Sage 1997, 2005, 2011), Child Maltreatment (with R. Perrin, Sage 1999, 2007, 2013), and Child Sexual Abuse: Sharing the Responsibility (with S. Wurtele, University of Nebraska Press, 1992).  She serves on the editorial boards of Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment, and Trauma, Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, Journal of Child and Adolescent Trauma, and Advances in Child and Family Policy and Practice.  She is a Fellow in the American Psychological Association (APA) and has served as the President of the Section on Child Maltreatment and Member-At-Large for Division 37 Society for Child and Family Policy and Practice of APA.  She is currently President of APA’s Division 37.

Image sources: iStockPhoto.com


Filed under: Children and Youth, Uncategorized Tagged: christian parenting, discipline, parenting, physical discipline, religious beliefs, religious parents, spanking

Corporal Punishment: A Wrong Not a Right

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This is the sixth in a series of weekly blog posts addressing discipline and parenting practices. In this series, we will explore reasons that parents choose among discipline approaches, the science behind those techniques, and alternative approaches to discipline.

By Barbara Bennett Woodhouse, JD (Professor of Law, Emory University)

No person has a “right” to strike another, no matter how close the relationship. I remember fifty years ago seeing a mother chase her child with a stick, shouting “I brought you into this world and I can put you in the cemetery!”  Luckily, the child was faster than his mother.  But the idea of a “right” to hit a child is no laughing matter.  It belongs in the dustbin of history along with a husband’s right to “discipline” his wife provided the stick he used was no thicker than his thumb.

Sometimes even good and loving parents can lose patience and resort to a spanking. That doesn’t make them criminals, but it does not make spanking into a right.  As a purely pragmatic matter, spanking is wrong.  Studies have shown that spanking and other harsh methods make children’s behavior worse not better.  But parents in our legal system are given a lot of leeway in how they raise their children.  In most states, corporal punishment only crosses the line into child abuse if it poses a serious risk of physical or psychological harm.

So how can I say that there is no “right” to spank your child?

There is a huge difference between what parents may do without becoming criminals and what they have a “right” to do. Under our constitutional system, a right is a fundamental freedom that deserves special constitutional protection.

Parental autonomy – including the freedom to make individual decisions about child rearing–has long been recognized as essential to American democracy. Individual choice in child bearing and child rearing are considered are fundamental to our scheme of ordered liberty.

Our family laws presume that parents have their children’s best interests at heart and are in the best position to understand their children’s needs. For these reasons, many aspects of child rearing are constitutionally protected, including parental rights to make decisions about education, medical care and religious upbringing.

But the Supreme Court has never held that parents have an unbridled constitutional right to discipline their child as they see fit. Instead, it has consistently held that parental freedoms end where harm to the child begins (see Prince v. Massachusetts). Those who disagree have tried and repeatedly failed to amend the constitution to add language that would recognize an affirmative right of parents to use corporal punishment.  The majority of parents and teachers, doctors and mental health experts, judges and advocates for abused and neglected children, and experts in constitutional law have defeated all efforts to enshrine spanking as a constitutional right. Corporal punishment too often escalates and ends tragically in child abuse.

There was a time when the slogan “spare the rod and spoil the child” was accepted as common wisdom. But the evidence is mounting that harsh discipline is actually detrimental to children and damaging to society.  Nations around the world now recognize that corporal punishment violates the rights of the child, offends children’s dignity and harms their development. No matter how well intentioned, spanking is a wrong and not a “right”.

Biography:

Barbara Bennett Woodhouse is among the nation’s foremost experts on children’s rights. She joined the Emory Law faculty in 2009 as the L. Q. C. Lamar Chair in Law. Her scholarship and teaching focus on child law, child welfare, comparative and international family law, adoption, and constitutional law. Read her full faculty profile here.

Related:

For more on the outcomes of spanking for children, read this study analyzing 50 years of research addressing this topic.

Image source: Flickr user Jessica Lucia via Creative Commons


Filed under: Children and Youth Tagged: child abuse, child rights, corporal punishment, discipline, parental rights, parenting, physical punishment, spanking

7 Essential Tips to Help You Master Disciplining Your Kids

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This is the fifth in a series of weekly blog posts addressing discipline and parenting practices. In this series, we will explore reasons that parents choose among discipline approaches, the science behind those techniques, and alternative approaches to discipline.

 

By Joan Grusec, PhD (Professor Emerita of Psychology, University of Toronto)

 

Discipline has a significant role to play in what is arguably the world’s most important job—raising children to be moral and responsible members of society. And, not surprisingly, there’s no shortage of advice about how to do it. Type “disciplining children” into a search engine and you’ll get hundreds of thousands of results. If you want a book about parenting and discipline there are thousands to choose from.

Unfortunately, there is also a lot of contradictory advice to choose from—

  • be strict but not too strict,
  • comply with your child’s wishes but don’t give in to them too much.
  • Be a tiger mom, a dolphin mom, a jellyfish mom….

So, what does a substantial body of psychological research, spanning more than 70 years, tell us about the best way to teach moral values to children?

 

Children learn values, both good and bad, from observing other people including their parents, siblings, friends, teachers, and television characters. They learn values, both good and bad, from talking about those values with parents, siblings, friends, and teachers. When children fail to behave well, however, parents have to turn to discipline.

 

Check out the seven tips below:

For discipline to work, children have to be clear about what the rules for good behavior are and they have to be willing to go along with or accept those rules.

 

How should parents make rules clear?

  1. Be consistent—it’s confusing when what was OK yesterday isn’t OK today.
  2. Provide reasons for good behavior that make sense and that the child can understand. Most 4-year-olds won’t comprehend discussions of property rights but they do understand that it feels bad to have your possessions taken without your permission.
  3. Have your child’s full attention. Too much anger and upset (on the part of both parent and child) is not conducive to calm discussion. Wait until tempers have cooled before talking about rules and the reasons for them.
  4. Make sure you don’t end up implicitly condoning unacceptable behavior. For example, in addition to its direct effect on children’s learning of values, discipline provides a model of how to resolve conflict. When your discipline involves calm discussion, exchange of points of view, and explanation, as well as negotiation and compromise if appropriate, you provide a good model for conflict resolution. Discipline that involves yelling, hitting, insulting, or unreasonable requests sends the message that verbal and physical aggression, along with an unwillingness to take into account the other person’s perspective, are acceptable ways to behave.

 

How should you get your children to accept the rules?               

  1. Let them experience appropriate negative consequences but don’t threaten their feelings of autonomy — no one likes to be forced into behaving in a particular way. Autonomy is supported when you:
    • allow choice where reasonable (for example, “you have to eat vegetables but would you prefer spinach or green beans”),
    • provide good reasons for required behavior,
    • try to understand your child’s perspective, and
    • don’t apply more negative consequences than are necessary to promote good behavior.
  2. Be accepting and caring so that your child wants to please you.
  3. Encourage your child to feel empathy by talking about the effects of their actions on others.

 

Biography:

Joan Grusec, PhD, is a Professor Emerita at the University of Toronto. Her research interests throughout her career have focused on discipline and the development of children’s prosocial behavior. She is the author or editor of several books related to the socialization of children, as well as more than 100 book chapters and research publications.

 

Image source: Flickr user Bethany Petrik via Creative Commons


Filed under: Children and Youth Tagged: child behavior, Children, children's mental health, discipline, parenting, parenting skills, parenting tips, positive parenting

Why Positive Parenting Trumps Physical Punishment When It Comes to Disciplining Kids

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This is the fourth in a series of weekly blog posts addressing discipline and parenting practices. In this series, we will explore reasons that parents choose among discipline approaches, the science behind those techniques, and alternative approaches to discipline.

 

By Gail Goodman, PhD (Director, UC Davis Center for Public Policy Research)

 

Why do we have children? It could be to bring more love into our lives. Or maybe it’s just because we slipped up one night while in a passionate embrace. Of course, there are many other reasons as well. Some parents are just kids themselves, some are single without another adult for support, some are poor and in great need. Personal situations can make life more difficult, for sure.

 

Even in the best of circumstances, parenting is super hard work and takes tremendous patience. When we have so many other concerns in life – a bad day, self-doubts, problems at work, or no work at all, not enough money, a rotten neighborhood, or drug addiction – and then we add in a child who is misbehaving, it is tempting to give the child a smack. After all, that was done to most American kids growing up, and most everyone says “I turned out fine,” or “I deserved it,” or “It was better than being yelled at.” And many religious and cultural ideas suggest that kids actually need a good hit. But let me tell you what the research shows: Spanking does not achieve our parenting goals.

 

In the end, we hope for well-adjusted children who are moral, happy, and loving. To achieve this, children need acceptance, love, and support. Physical punishment does not lead children to feel accepted, loved and supported. John Bowlby (1982) and Mary Ainsworth (1989), in their work on attachment theory, got it right. They emphasized the importance of a positive parent-child relationship for children’s mental health and well-being.

 

African American father and son

According to attachment theory, important parts of the child’s brain are highly activated under conditions of threat (e.g., separation, physical assault). Spanking is a condition of threat. Even in infancy, the child’s “attachment system” essentially “asks” the following fundamental question: Is the caretaker nearby, accessible, positively responsive, loving, and attentive? If “yes,” the child will feel loved, secure, and confident, and, behaviorally, is likely to explore and learn, to have empathy, to be a leader, and to be sociable. Most parents likely agree that those are good things.

 

But if the answer is “no,” the child first feels scared, rejected, and then angry, and is likely to develop anxious or avoidant tendencies, be more immature, have lower self-esteem, experience more trouble learning, and to exhibit worse mental health. The child is less likely to feel empathy for others, less likely to be a leader, and less likely to be sociable. This anxious or avoidant response is associated with what we call “insecure attachment.”

 

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Spanking is significantly related to insecure infant attachment1probably because the answer to the question above is “no.” Ideally, you don’t want any “no’s” because a negative is much stronger than a positive. As Baumeister and colleagues (2001) put it, “Bad is stronger than good,” meaning negative experiences in life have a more lasting effect and are remembered better than positive experiences. Children are just forming their impressions of themselves and others, so negative things, like a whooping, can have a whopping negative effect.

 

These early attachment relationships follow us into adulthood2,3,4. The attachments we have with our own parents affect how we raise our children. Parents’ attachment insecurities (as assessed by self-report scales) are associated with heightened use of physical punishment inflicted on their children5. Theoretically, the parent’s attachment insecurities relate to the parent’s own childhood experiences.

 

When a child is distressed, avoidant parents (e.g., ones who are uncomfortable with close emotionally intimate relationships due to their own childhoods) become less supportive, more likely to hit. We can see that tendency even in doctor’s offices when children are getting shots6 or before and after invasive medical procedures7.

 

 Facts of Life

Research confirms that positive parenting has much better outcomes than physical punishment or than other negative approaches, like belittling kids8,9. Using physical discipline with children sets many up to have trouble in school, to have problems with authority figures, to act out aggressively toward others, to be prejudiced and depressed, to take drugs or alcohol to self-medicate, and to build psychological (if not real) walls for emotional defense10,11.

 

Positive child outcomes are more likely when parents refrain from using physical punishment and other negative parenting practices, and instead treat their children with warmth, reasoned communication, and nurturing. Studies find that this type of positive parenting can foster positive psychological outcomes, such as high self-esteem and cooperation with others, as well as improved achievement in school.

See, for example:

 

Parents can be brave and bold—Take a positive approach, even if it means going against how you were raised. Children will be more cooperative and better off, parents are likely to be happier, and the world will finally be a kinder place.

 

References:

 

Ainsworth, M. D. S. (1989). Attachments beyond infancy. American Psychologist, 44, 709-716

Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky, E., Finkenauer, C., & Vohs, K. D. (2001). Bad is stronger than good. Review of General Psychology, 5, 323-370.

Bowlby, J. (1982). Attachment and loss: Vol. 1. Attachment. New York, NY: Basic Books.  (Original work published 1969)

2Cassidy, J., & Shaver, P. R. (2016). Handbook of attachment, 3rd edition. New York, NY: Guilford.

5Coyl, D. D., Newland L. A., Freeman H. (2010). Predicting preschoolers’ attachment security from parenting behaviours, parents’ attachment relationships and their use of social support. Early Child Development and Care, 180, 499-512.

1Coyl, D. D., Roggman L. A., & Newland, L. A. (2002). Stress, maternal depression, and negative mother–infant interactions in relation to infant attachment. Infant Mental Health Journal,23, 145-163.

10Durrant, J., & Ensom, R. (2012). Physical punishment of children: Lessons from 20 years of research. CMAJ, 184, 1373-1377.

6Edelstein, R. S., Alexander, K. W., Shaver, P. R., Schaaf, J. M., Quas, J. A., & Goodman, G. S. (2004). Adult attachment style and parental responsiveness during a stressful event. Attachment and Human Development, 6, 31-52.

8Gershoff, E. T. (2013). Spanking and child development: We know enough now to stop hitting our children. Child Development Perspectives, 7, 133-137.

11Gershoff, E. T., & Grogan-Kaylor, A. (2016). Spanking and child outcomes: Old controversies and new meta-analyses. Journal of Family Psychology, 30, 453-469.

7Goodman, G. S., Quas, J. A., Batterman-Faunce, J. M., Riddlesberger, M., & Kuhn, J. (1997). Children’s reactions to and memory for a stressful experience: Influences of age, knowledge, anatomical dolls, and parental attachment. Applied Developmental Sciences, 1, 54-75.

3Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. R. (1987). Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 511-524.

4Main, M., Kaplan, N., & Cassidy, J. (1985). Security in infancy, childhood, and adulthood: A move to the level of representation. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 50, 66-104.

Sanders, M. R. (2008). “Triple P-Positive Parenting Program as a public health approach to strengthening parenting”. Journal of Family Psychology. 22 (3): 506–517. doi:10.1037/0893-3200.22.3.506

9Silva, J. (2007). Parents Raising Safe Kids: ACT 8-week program for parents. Washington, D.C.:  American Psychological Association.

 

Biography:

Dr. Gail S. Goodman is Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Director of the Center for Public Policy Research at the University of California, Davis. Her research concerns memory development, child maltreatment, trauma and memory, and children in the legal system. She has received many awards for her research and writings and has served as President of Division 7 (Developmental Psychology) of the American Psychological Association. Dr. Goodman has published widely and has received many federal, state, and foundation grants. Her research has been cited in U.S. Supreme Court decisions. She obtained her PhD in Developmental Psychology from University of California, Los Angeles and conducted postdoctoral studies at the University of Denver and the Université René Descartes in Paris, France. Dr. Goodman has served on the faculty of the University of Denver, the State University of New York, and the University of Oslo, Norway. She has consulted with numerous governments and agencies throughout the world on policies and research concerning child victims in the legal system.

Image sources: Flickr via Creative Commons (1 & 3), iStockPhoto.com (2 & 4)


Filed under: Children and Youth Tagged: attachment, attachment theory, child development, children's mental health, discipline, parenting, physical punishment, positive parenting, spanking

Can You Discipline Your Child Without Using Punishment?

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This is the third in a series of weekly blog posts addressing discipline and parenting practices. In this series we will  explore the reasons that parents choose among discipline approaches, the science behind those techniques, and alternative approaches to discipline.

 

By Alan E. Kazdin, PhD, ABPP (Yale University)

 

When we talk about discipline, we usually refer to the efforts by parents and teachers to reduce or eliminate annoying or inappropriate child behaviors. Punishment is designed to suppress or reduce behavior and may appear like the perfect match for these goals.  The term “discipline” includes the notions of instruction but also of punishment.

From the standpoint of psychological science, there is another way to consider the topic of discipline that sidesteps a sole focus on punishment. This approach begins with what we are trying to accomplish – eliminating inappropriate child behaviors and teaching habits and values.  This perspective keeps the same goals, but very much opens up the possible means of achieving these goals without the use of punishment.

 

Punishment in Brief

As a general rule, punishment is not a very effective way of changing behavior, at least in the usual way it is administered. By punishment, I refer to negative consequences after certain behavior (e.g., gentle reprimand, lecture, shouting, or hitting) or removing some positive consequence (e.g., placing the child in time out or away from desirable events, taking away a privilege).

As an aside, gentle, rational, and measured reasoning with a child (e.g., “We do not do that [behavior] in this house,” “What if your sister ruined your toys?” or “You, just violated a Kantian imperative”) are wonderful to teach reasoning and to model parent reasonableness under fire but not very effective as behavior-change techniques.

There are three major concerns relevant to the use of punishment.

 

1. Punishment even at its best, does not develop the positive behavior the parents wish.

That is, it does not teach the child what to do, but may momentarily suppress the undesired behavior.  You can reprimand the child all day for not (choose one: doing homework, practicing a musical instrument, cleaning up her room) but that will not teach her to do homework, to practice, or to clean up.  Developing behavior does not come from merely suppressing unwanted behaviors.

 

2. Punishment often has negative side effects

These effects include trying to escape from or avoid the situation or person associated with punishment, emotional effects (e.g., crying, being upset), and engaging in aggressive behavior. None of the side effects relates to the effectiveness of punishment (e.g., the more upset the child is not any indication of the effectiveness of punishment in suppressing behavior).  Actually, side effects “come on” or occur even with very ineffective punishment.

 

3. The punishment trap can lock in punishment in parent and teacher behavior.

That trap refers to the fact that punishment often stops the behavior immediately — perhaps through startle or interruption. These immediate effects (stopping of the aversive child behavior) help lock in the parent’s behavior (through negative reinforcement). By “locking in” I mean it increases the likelihood that the parent will punish in the future. In fact, the rate of the child’s misbehavior is not changed or improved, but those delayed effects do not override the impact of immediate cessation of behavior.

To be clear, punishing your child’s behavior can have multiple goals. For example, parents often want to teach a lesson, provide a just penalty to match the child’s crime, to be a responsible or “good parent”, or to follow cultural or religious practices.  These goals can be distinguished from changing child behavior.

The goals do not necessarily clash, i.e., eliminating some behavior, but the means really do.  For example, when your child carelessly destroys the family dollhouse that was built by his or her great-great-great (keep adding “greats”) grandfather from Pangaea, the supercontinent, you may want to convey the gravity of the act and punish accordingly.  At this point, a psychologist armed with “evidence-based” punishment might well say, “the science supports use of just a couple minutes of time out or brief loss of a privilege (e.g., computer, videos, bicycle) for a day.” The psychologist is speaking to behavior change but not the many goals that you, as a parent, hope to achieve.

 

So, How to Eliminate Behavior without Punishment

There is no evidence that punishment is really needed to achieve parent goals or to discipline children. That is a stark statement and saying that it has a strong research base is no consolation.

Here is what we know. There are ways of eliminating behavior that involve directly developing and reinforcing behaviors that are opposite to or incompatible with the behavior one wants to eliminate.  The non-technical term is reinforcing positive opposites.  This is based on many technical procedures (several differential reinforcement schedules) that have been well studied in human and nonhuman animal research (see references).  Essentially, the key point is developing the behavior one wishes rather than focusing on what to eliminate.

Consider the table below in which the goals are to change behaviors (left column). A parent or teacher might endlessly make threats, reprimand, lecture, and take privileges away for any one of those.  Yet, these interventions are extremely unlikely to work at all.  A more effective strategy is to develop the behaviors one wants, i.e., developing the positive opposite (right column).

I say “reinforcing” the opposite behavior, but this is not merely administering praise or throwing rewards at the behavior. Changing behavior focuses on antecedents (what comes before the behavior), the behavior (crafting approximations of what you wish), and consequences (usually praise delivered in a special way).  This requires some knowledge about how to craft and develop the behavior, but concrete guidelines are readily available (see the references).

The examples in the table are behaviors in everyday life but at the clinic where I work, we use positive opposites with children referred for aggressive and violent behaviors.

 

What you want to get rid of . . . Positive opposite… 
Siblings fighting over a TV show (or use of a computer game) Sitting and watching TV together nicely (or taking turns with game), without shouting or hitting
Child throwing his clothes all over the floor in his bedroom Placing them in his dresser or closet
Child not doing her homework Sitting quietly at her desk and doing school work for 30 minutes
Child getting out of bed again and again for a drink of water to stretch out bed time Going to bed, getting up no more than once for a drink or bathroom, and remaining in her room
Child arguing and shouting at me whenever I say no to something Expressing anger calmly

  

Where Does Punishment Fit in All of This?

The first point to make is that punishment is invariably the secondary part of any behavior-change effort when trying to “discipline.” That means we begin by identifying the behavior we wish to take the place of the one we want to eliminate.  We now focus on developing that behavior through the use of antecedents and consequences and shaping.  Once that primary focus is in place, mild punishment can be an effective adjunct.

 

Here are key tips for using punishment effectively:

 

1. Emphasize praise and attention for the positive opposite behaviors.  

If you are using brief time out from reinforcement as the punishment, do not expect it to work at all unless you are praising the appropriate behavior you wish during periods when your child is not in time out.

 

2. If punishment is to be used, make it mild and brief.  

Time out of a few minutes (e.g., 5 minutes or thereabouts) or loss of privilege (e.g., for an evening or day or two) is as effective as what you might want to do (e.g., 1 hour of time out; taking away the privilege of going out on dates until your child is 30 years old).

 

3. Explain to your child why he or she should or should not do something.

It is fine and indeed beneficial to do so. This models thinking, reasoning, and the appropriate style of handling a potentially volatile situation.  Yet, it is not likely to impact the frequency of the inappropriate behavior.  The familiar parental refrain, “If I have told you once, I have told you a thousand times” makes perfect sense.  That phrase is in keeping with what we know, namely, telling people to do something (e.g., stop smoking, eat more vegetables, ease up on the fast foods, add broccoli to your diet) does not mean they will do it.  Providing information can help but, done in isolation, it is not a very reliable way to change behavior in most people most of the time.

 

4. Avoid physical punishment. 

It is not more effective and, in fact, moderate to severe application increases the risk for all sorts of undesirable outcomes (e.g., aggressive and antisocial behavior, poor school performance, problems of physical health, damage to the immune system). The uses of physical punishment are influenced by scores of other factors, of course. And often the findings are not relevant to families or compete with what they have experienced (e.g., punishment trap is relevant here).

 

5. Model the behavior you wish to see in your child.  

Modeling is an untapped influence in the home, i.e., showing exactly the behaviors you wish your child to learn. Children copy parents of course, but modeling is not used strategically by parents to teach the behaviors they wish in a systematic way.

 

6. Avoid cliché interventions.

Our media has popularized techniques like “tough love,” “three strikes (misbehaviors) and you are out,” or reasoning that is not really well based in childrearing research (e.g., slippery slope—if I let this go, my child will keep getting worse). These are not interventions that are effective as a general rule, and they actually can make achieving the desired behaviors much more difficult..

 

In summary, what do we know about changing the behavior of children (and others) in the context of discipline?

 

The decision regarding how to discipline children is influenced by many factors and is a privilege and responsibility that comes with parenting. From the standpoint of psychological science, however, the question is, “What are the most effective ways of changing behavior based on research?” Developing positive, prosocial behavior not only develops habits you wish to see, but can eliminate behaviors that interfere with your child’s adjustment and functioning.

If the usual methods are working for your child, i.e., he or she is doing well at home and at school, everyone is satisfied, and there are no risks of untoward side effects for the child, then perhaps you do  not need to resort to methods I have highlighted. On the other hand, these methods can help ease parenting discipline challenges by achieving changes in your child’s behavior more effectively, more quickly, and more enduringly.

Research tells us that good habits, whether it is eating broccoli or flossing or developing positive opposites in relation to discipline, are not compatible with what many people wish to do or believe are advisable practices. For many parents, discipline means punishment and lessons need to be taught. That is understandable.  However, the suggestions I offer are effective in changing behavior and perhaps can be adapted to your personal and cultural views of child-rearing.

 

References:

Kazdin, A.E. (2013). Behavior modification in applied settings (7th ed.). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

Kazdin, A.E., & Rotella, C. (2013). The everyday parenting toolkit: The Kazdin Method for easy, step-by-step lasting change for you and your child. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

 

Biography:

Alan E. Kazdin, PhD, ABPP, is Sterling Professor of Psychology and Child Psychiatry at Yale University and Director of the Yale Parenting Center. He was the 2008 President of the American Psychological Association and is the author of 49 books for professional-audiences on topics of parenting and child rearing, child psychotherapy, cognitive and behavioral treatments, interpersonal violence, and research methods.  His work has been translated in several languages throughout the world.

 

Image source: Flickr user Dolan Holbrook via Creative Commons


Filed under: Children and Youth Tagged: child behavior, discipline, parenting, parenting tips, physical discipline, physical punishment, positive parenting, punishment

Can You Discipline Your Child Without Using Punishment?

blog-kazdin-punishment-discipline

This is the third in a series of weekly blog posts addressing discipline and parenting practices. In this series we will  explore the reasons that parents choose among discipline approaches, the science behind those techniques, and alternative approaches to discipline.

 

By Alan E. Kazdin, PhD, ABPP (Yale University)

 

When we talk about discipline, we usually refer to the efforts by parents and teachers to reduce or eliminate annoying or inappropriate child behaviors. Punishment is designed to suppress or reduce behavior and may appear like the perfect match for these goals.  The term “discipline” includes the notions of instruction but also of punishment.

From the standpoint of psychological science, there is another way to consider the topic of discipline that sidesteps a sole focus on punishment. This approach begins with what we are trying to accomplish – eliminating inappropriate child behaviors and teaching habits and values.  This perspective keeps the same goals, but very much opens up the possible means of achieving these goals without the use of punishment.

 

Punishment in Brief

As a general rule, punishment is not a very effective way of changing behavior, at least in the usual way it is administered. By punishment, I refer to negative consequences after certain behavior (e.g., gentle reprimand, lecture, shouting, or hitting) or removing some positive consequence (e.g., placing the child in time out or away from desirable events, taking away a privilege).

As an aside, gentle, rational, and measured reasoning with a child (e.g., “We do not do that [behavior] in this house,” “What if your sister ruined your toys?” or “You, just violated a Kantian imperative”) are wonderful to teach reasoning and to model parent reasonableness under fire but not very effective as behavior-change techniques.

There are three major concerns relevant to the use of punishment.

 

1. Punishment even at its best, does not develop the positive behavior the parents wish.

That is, it does not teach the child what to do, but may momentarily suppress the undesired behavior.  You can reprimand the child all day for not (choose one: doing homework, practicing a musical instrument, cleaning up her room) but that will not teach her to do homework, to practice, or to clean up.  Developing behavior does not come from merely suppressing unwanted behaviors.

 

2. Punishment often has negative side effects

These effects include trying to escape from or avoid the situation or person associated with punishment, emotional effects (e.g., crying, being upset), and engaging in aggressive behavior. None of the side effects relates to the effectiveness of punishment (e.g., the more upset the child is not any indication of the effectiveness of punishment in suppressing behavior).  Actually, side effects “come on” or occur even with very ineffective punishment.

 

3. The punishment trap can lock in punishment in parent and teacher behavior.

That trap refers to the fact that punishment often stops the behavior immediately — perhaps through startle or interruption. These immediate effects (stopping of the aversive child behavior) help lock in the parent’s behavior (through negative reinforcement). By “locking in” I mean it increases the likelihood that the parent will punish in the future. In fact, the rate of the child’s misbehavior is not changed or improved, but those delayed effects do not override the impact of immediate cessation of behavior.

To be clear, punishing your child’s behavior can have multiple goals. For example, parents often want to teach a lesson, provide a just penalty to match the child’s crime, to be a responsible or “good parent”, or to follow cultural or religious practices.  These goals can be distinguished from changing child behavior.

The goals do not necessarily clash, i.e., eliminating some behavior, but the means really do.  For example, when your child carelessly destroys the family dollhouse that was built by his or her great-great-great (keep adding “greats”) grandfather from Pangaea, the supercontinent, you may want to convey the gravity of the act and punish accordingly.  At this point, a psychologist armed with “evidence-based” punishment might well say, “the science supports use of just a couple minutes of time out or brief loss of a privilege (e.g., computer, videos, bicycle) for a day.” The psychologist is speaking to behavior change but not the many goals that you, as a parent, hope to achieve.

 

So, How to Eliminate Behavior without Punishment

There is no evidence that punishment is really needed to achieve parent goals or to discipline children. That is a stark statement and saying that it has a strong research base is no consolation.

Here is what we know. There are ways of eliminating behavior that involve directly developing and reinforcing behaviors that are opposite to or incompatible with the behavior one wants to eliminate.  The non-technical term is reinforcing positive opposites.  This is based on many technical procedures (several differential reinforcement schedules) that have been well studied in human and nonhuman animal research (see references).  Essentially, the key point is developing the behavior one wishes rather than focusing on what to eliminate.

Consider the table below in which the goals are to change behaviors (left column). A parent or teacher might endlessly make threats, reprimand, lecture, and take privileges away for any one of those.  Yet, these interventions are extremely unlikely to work at all.  A more effective strategy is to develop the behaviors one wants, i.e., developing the positive opposite (right column).

I say “reinforcing” the opposite behavior, but this is not merely administering praise or throwing rewards at the behavior. Changing behavior focuses on antecedents (what comes before the behavior), the behavior (crafting approximations of what you wish), and consequences (usually praise delivered in a special way).  This requires some knowledge about how to craft and develop the behavior, but concrete guidelines are readily available (see the references).

The examples in the table are behaviors in everyday life but at the clinic where I work, we use positive opposites with children referred for aggressive and violent behaviors.

 

What you want to get rid of . . . Positive opposite… 
Siblings fighting over a TV show (or use of a computer game) Sitting and watching TV together nicely (or taking turns with game), without shouting or hitting
Child throwing his clothes all over the floor in his bedroom Placing them in his dresser or closet
Child not doing her homework Sitting quietly at her desk and doing school work for 30 minutes
Child getting out of bed again and again for a drink of water to stretch out bed time Going to bed, getting up no more than once for a drink or bathroom, and remaining in her room
Child arguing and shouting at me whenever I say no to something Expressing anger calmly

  

Where Does Punishment Fit in All of This?

The first point to make is that punishment is invariably the secondary part of any behavior-change effort when trying to “discipline.” That means we begin by identifying the behavior we wish to take the place of the one we want to eliminate.  We now focus on developing that behavior through the use of antecedents and consequences and shaping.  Once that primary focus is in place, mild punishment can be an effective adjunct.

 

Here are key tips for using punishment effectively:

 

1. Emphasize praise and attention for the positive opposite behaviors.  

If you are using brief time out from reinforcement as the punishment, do not expect it to work at all unless you are praising the appropriate behavior you wish during periods when your child is not in time out.

 

2. If punishment is to be used, make it mild and brief.  

Time out of a few minutes (e.g., 5 minutes or thereabouts) or loss of privilege (e.g., for an evening or day or two) is as effective as what you might want to do (e.g., 1 hour of time out; taking away the privilege of going out on dates until your child is 30 years old).

 

3. Explain to your child why he or she should or should not do something.

It is fine and indeed beneficial to do so. This models thinking, reasoning, and the appropriate style of handling a potentially volatile situation.  Yet, it is not likely to impact the frequency of the inappropriate behavior.  The familiar parental refrain, “If I have told you once, I have told you a thousand times” makes perfect sense.  That phrase is in keeping with what we know, namely, telling people to do something (e.g., stop smoking, eat more vegetables, ease up on the fast foods, add broccoli to your diet) does not mean they will do it.  Providing information can help but, done in isolation, it is not a very reliable way to change behavior in most people most of the time.

 

4. Avoid physical punishment. 

It is not more effective and, in fact, moderate to severe application increases the risk for all sorts of undesirable outcomes (e.g., aggressive and antisocial behavior, poor school performance, problems of physical health, damage to the immune system). The uses of physical punishment are influenced by scores of other factors, of course. And often the findings are not relevant to families or compete with what they have experienced (e.g., punishment trap is relevant here).

 

5. Model the behavior you wish to see in your child.  

Modeling is an untapped influence in the home, i.e., showing exactly the behaviors you wish your child to learn. Children copy parents of course, but modeling is not used strategically by parents to teach the behaviors they wish in a systematic way.

 

6. Avoid cliché interventions.

Our media has popularized techniques like “tough love,” “three strikes (misbehaviors) and you are out,” or reasoning that is not really well based in childrearing research (e.g., slippery slope—if I let this go, my child will keep getting worse). These are not interventions that are effective as a general rule, and they actually can make achieving the desired behaviors much more difficult..

 

In summary, what do we know about changing the behavior of children (and others) in the context of discipline?

 

The decision regarding how to discipline children is influenced by many factors and is a privilege and responsibility that comes with parenting. From the standpoint of psychological science, however, the question is, “What are the most effective ways of changing behavior based on research?” Developing positive, prosocial behavior not only develops habits you wish to see, but can eliminate behaviors that interfere with your child’s adjustment and functioning.

If the usual methods are working for your child, i.e., he or she is doing well at home and at school, everyone is satisfied, and there are no risks of untoward side effects for the child, then perhaps you do  not need to resort to methods I have highlighted. On the other hand, these methods can help ease parenting discipline challenges by achieving changes in your child’s behavior more effectively, more quickly, and more enduringly.

Research tells us that good habits, whether it is eating broccoli or flossing or developing positive opposites in relation to discipline, are not compatible with what many people wish to do or believe are advisable practices. For many parents, discipline means punishment and lessons need to be taught. That is understandable.  However, the suggestions I offer are effective in changing behavior and perhaps can be adapted to your personal and cultural views of child-rearing.

 

References:

Kazdin, A.E. (2013). Behavior modification in applied settings (7th ed.). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

Kazdin, A.E., & Rotella, C. (2013). The everyday parenting toolkit: The Kazdin Method for easy, step-by-step lasting change for you and your child. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

 

Biography:

Alan E. Kazdin, PhD, ABPP, is Sterling Professor of Psychology and Child Psychiatry at Yale University and Director of the Yale Parenting Center. He was the 2008 President of the American Psychological Association and is the author of 49 books for professional-audiences on topics of parenting and child rearing, child psychotherapy, cognitive and behavioral treatments, interpersonal violence, and research methods.  His work has been translated in several languages throughout the world.

 

Image source: Flickr user Dolan Holbrook via Creative Commons


Filed under: Children and Youth Tagged: child behavior, discipline, parenting, parenting tips, physical discipline, physical punishment, positive parenting, punishment

A Tale of Two Tantrums

Young boy having a temper tantrum

This is the second in a series of weekly blog posts addressing discipline and parenting practices. In this series, we will explore reasons that parents choose among discipline approaches, the science behind those techniques, and alternative approaches to discipline.

 

By Joan E. Durrant, PhD (Associate Professor of Family Social Sciences, University of Manitoba)

 

Picture this: You are in a store.  Two young children are nearby with their parents.  Each of them suddenly erupts into a tantrum.  Your intense irritation leads you to utter, “What those kids need is some good, old-fashioned discipline!”  In that moment, you want those parents to make those children stop crying and do whatever it is that their parents have told them to do – now!

 

When our emotional brain reacts to an aversive event, it ignites an intense desire to regain control, driving us toward coercion and punishment. This is a reaction to the immediate moment.  Think of it as looking through a camera lens that is ‘zoomed in’ on a small part of the scene, showing you only the irritating behavior.

 

Now ‘zoom out’ to see more of the scene, and what preceded it. You see that one child has had a nasty flu for several days.  You see the other child’s father speaking to her in American Sign Language.  She’s been trying to explain her feelings to him through signs, but he hasn’t understood her.  Your perspective shifts and you realize that these two tantrums are happening for very different reasons: the first because of exhaustion, the second because of frustration.  You quickly realize that punishment wouldn’t help in either situation because it wouldn’t address the actual issues.

 

Interestingly, the Latin root of ‘discipline’ is discere, which means ‘to learn’ or discipere, which means ‘to grasp intellectually.’  Discipline is about learning, understanding, processing, resolving – actions taken by the child, not done to the child.  It is an active state of constructing knowledge.  But how do you foster this when you and the child are both stressed out?

 

1. Think long-term

The way we respond to stress is what the child is learning to do. The child is likely to attend to, process, remember and re-enact our response at a later time. How do you want your child to respond to conflict with peers? Keep this foremost in your mind.

 

 

2. Reduce the stress

Over recent years, we’ve learned about the importance of ‘self-regulation’ – our ability to calm ourselves when we’re upset. When we can calm ourselves, we can zoom out and see more of what’s going on, helping us to respond constructively and fostering the development of self-regulation in the child.

 

3. Think about how the child sees the situation

 

When we’re frustrated, we tend to attribute blame to the child – “He’s defying me;” “She’s misbehaving on purpose.” This feeds our anger and our drive to punish.  But the child also has a perspective on the situation.  The child could be tired, hungry, unable to express herself, frustrated by our behavior, or not yet able to self-regulate.  When we consider the child’s perspective, we’re more likely to respond constructively.  And when we model perspective-taking, we nurture that ability in the child.

 

4. Ensure the child’s physical and emotional safety

Adults’ first responsibility to children is to keep them safe. When children are scared or anxious, they aren’t able to take in information, process it and remember it the way we hope they will. The might remember how scared they felt in that moment, but this is not the same as constructing knowledge or understanding. We learn best when we are calm and open to new information.

 

5. Involve the child in resolving the situation

 

Taking things away, isolation and other punishments don’t help the child to acquire skills. When we talk with the child about our perspective and theirs, and ask them for their ideas about how it can go better next time, we are helping them practice conflict resolution, as well as nurturing their insight.  ‘Discipline’ is a participatory process that helps children gradually learn how to solve problems without aggression or coercion.

 

Check out these resources, to learn more about:

 

Biography:

 

Dr. Joan Durrant is a Child-Clinical Psychologist and Associate Professor of Family Social Sciences in the Faculty of Human Ecology at the University of Manitoba.  Dr. Durrant’s research focuses on the psychological, cultural, legal and human rights dimensions of corporal punishment of children in Canada and worldwide. She was the principal researcher and co-author of the Canadian Joint Statement on Physical Punishment of Children and Youth.

 


Filed under: Children and Youth Tagged: child development, conflict resolution, discipline, emotional development, emotional health, parenting, parenting tips, punishment, self-regulation, stress, stress management

Why Do Parents Physically Punish their Children? 5 Useful Analogies from Sedimentary Rocks

Childhood Days

This is the first in a series of weekly blog posts addressing discipline and parenting practices. In this series, we will explore reasons that parents choose among discipline approaches, the science behind those techniques, and alternative approaches to discipline.

 

By George W. Holden, PhD (Professor of Psychology, Southern Methodist University)

I’m not a geologist, so I need a little latitude when I draw an analogy between why parents physically punish their children and characteristics of sedimentary rocks. But having researched the determinants (or predictors) of physical punishment for many years, I can point out five useful analogies.

 

1. Methods of physical punishment, like sedimentary rocks, vary

Sedimentary rocks come in many forms (e.g., limestone, sandstone, oil shale). Physical (also called corporal) punishment methods are also heterogeneous: parents slap, spank, whip (hit with an object), whop, or use some other physically painful method (e.g., “hot saucing”). The common denominator is that the punishment is intended to cause pain in order to teach a lesson.

There is considerably diversity in the application of physical punishment:

  • A small percent (17% according to Combes-Orme & Cain, 2008) of parents hit their infants and a similar percent also hit their 17-year olds (Straus & Stewart, 1999).
  • Most (85%) children in the U.S. will experience it at least once (Bender et al., 2007). Some parents rarely use it (once a year or less) but others rely on it.
  • In fact, in a home audio-recording, we discovered that one mother hit her child every 2 hours! (Holden, Williamson, & Holland, 2014).
  • The frequency of hitting varies with parent education, socioeconomic status, race, religious beliefs, and age as well as the sex of parent (e.g., Berlin et al., 2009; Ellison, Musick & Holden, 2011; Gershoff, Lansford, Sexton, Davis-Kean, & Sameroff, 2012; Lee, Altschul & Gershoff, 2015).

 

2. Influences on physical punishment are layered

We learned in earth science classes that sedimentary rock is deposited in strata (layers), with the new deposits on top of old ones. That idea of layers of determinants is useful for recognizing the multiple influences on physically disciplining children.

At the surface (or proximate) level, a parent spanks because a child engaged in a behavior that the parent did not like. The child may have done something (e.g., hit someone) or not done something (e.g., not complied immediately with a request).

Research evidence (Holden, Coleman, & Schmidt, 1995; Holden et al., 2014) indicates that parents hit children most often for mundane actions (e.g., taking someone’s toy, picking their nose), and only rarely for serious moral transgressions (e.g., lying, stealing).

Child characteristics associated with more frequent hitting include:

  • sex (boys),
  • age (peaks at 3 or 4 years), and
  • temperament (difficult).

From a parental cognitive perspective, many parents use physical punishment because they think it works. Parents observe the child’s reaction in the short term—the child is upset and stops the behavior—so, they conclude it is an effective teaching tool. Parents also believe that the punishment promotes effective child socialization because it teaches the child what not to do.

However, the research evidence (Gershoff & Grogan-Kaylor, 2016) actually indicates just the opposite: physical punishment models aggression and children who are punished in this way are more likely to show a variety of developmental problems in the future. Although many parents believe in physical punishment as a means to an end, when they use it, they are typically stressed, frustrated, or angry with their child.

 

3. Interaction between influences on physical punishment

But at deeper levels, other factors are at play. Many parents originally base their views—either for or against physical punishment—on their own childhood experiences.

That view can be altered by a variety of influences, including:

  • views of normative disciplinary techniques,
  • stress,
  • socio-economic, ethnic or racial group,
  • religious beliefs,
  • parent education, or
  • advice from trusted sources, such as pediatricians.

Just as multiple processes help to form sedimentary rocks, these factors interact with each other. The influence of the different factors can be measured with surveys about parents’ attitudes toward physical punishment.

 

4. There are a wide range of parental attitudes about physical punishment

A fourth analogy is that sedimentary rock can be soft or hard, depending on its composition. Attitudes about physical discipline range from tenuous to tenaciously clung to. Susceptibility to change thus depends on a parent’s degree of conviction: cracking a hard rock is difficult.

 

5. Views of physical discipline can change

I end with a final analogy. Sedimentary rocks erode (think Grand Canyon). So, too, is support for physically disciplining children. Survey data in the United States indicate a slow but steady decline. Child Trends found a 22% decrease in women’s favorable attitudes toward hitting children over the past 30 years. That erosion is likely precipitated by various factors including hearing about research into hitting and child behavior problems (Holden, Brown, Baldwin, & Croft Caderao, 2014), recognizing children’s right not to be hit by anyone, or learning alternative techniques—such as positive discipline.

 

Biography :

George W. Holden, PhD, is a professor and Chair of the Psychology Department at Southern Methodist University. He is a noted expert on parenting, discipline and family violence. He can discuss social development as it relates to parent-child relationships; the nature and consequences of parental harsh punishment; causes and consequences of family violence; child-rearing and parenting; and child maltreatment.

 

References:

Bender, H. L., Allen, J. P., McElhaney, K. B., Antonishak, J., Moore, C. M., Kelly, H. O., & Davis, S. M. (2007). Use of harsh physical discipline and developmental outcomes in adolescence. Development and Psychopathology, 19, 227-242. doi:10.1017/S0954579407070125

Berlin, L. J., Ispa, J. M., Fine, M. A., Malone, P. S., Brooks-Gunn, J., Brady-Smith, C., . . . Bai, Y. (2009). Correlates and consequences of spanking and verbal punishment for low-income White, African American, and Mexican American toddlers. Child Development, 80(5), 1403-1420. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2009.01341.x

Combs-Orme, T., & Cain, D. S. (2008). Predictors of mothers’ use of spanking with their infants. Child Abuse & Neglect, 32, 649-657. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2007.08.006

Ellison, C. G., Musick, M. A., & Holden, G. W. (2011). Does Conservative Protestantism moderate the association between corporal punishment and child outcomes? Journal of Marriage and Family, 73, 946-961. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2011.00854.x

Gershoff, E. T., & Grogan-Kaylor, A. (2016). Spanking and child outcomes: Old controversies and new meta-analyses. Journal of Family Psychology, 30, 453-469. doi:10.1037/fam0000191

Gershoff, E. T., Lansford, J. E., Sexton, H. R., Davis-Kean, P., & Sameroff, A. J. (2012). Longitudinal links between spanking and children’s externalizing behaviors in a national sample of White, Black, Hispanic, and Asian American families. Child Development, 83, 838-843. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2011.01732.x

Holden, G. W., Brown, A. S., Baldwin, A. S., & Croft Caderao, K. (2014). Research findings can change attitudes about corporal punishment. Child Abuse & Neglect, 38, 902-908. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2013.10.013

Holden, G. W., Coleman, S., & Schmidt, K. L. (1995). Why 3-year-old children get spanked: Parent and child determinants in a sample of college-educated mothers. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 41, 431-452.

Holden, G. W., Williamson, P. A., & Holland, G. W. (2014). Eavesdropping on the family: A pilot investigation of corporal punishment in the home. Journal of Family Psychology, 28, 401-406. doi:10.1037/a0036370

Lee, S. J., Altschul, I., & Gershoff, E. T. (2015). Wait until your father gets home? Mother’s and fathers’ spanking and development of child aggression. Children and Youth Services Review. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2014.11.006

Straus, M. A., & Stewart, J. H. (1999). Corporal punishment by American parents: National data on prevalence, chronicity, severity, and duration in relation to child and family characteristics. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 2, 55-70. doi:10.1023/A:1021891529770

Image source: iStockPhoto.com

 


Filed under: Children and Youth Tagged: child behavior, corporal punishment, discipline, parenting, physical discipline, physical punishment, spanking