Speak or spank? More parents choose reasoning than physical discipline

April 16, 2010 Volume 9 Issue 4
  • The most common discipline strategies parents use are explaining or reasoning, taking away a privilege, and time outs or grounding.
  • 1 in 5 parents report spanking their children nationally, with higher rates in some regions.

Misbehaving is part of growing up, and of learning right from wrong. But how do parents decide how to let kids know they have stepped out of line?

Parents’ choices of discipline for their kids include a wide range of options, from verbal discussions to physical punishment. Experts have different opinions about how effective different strategies are. Meanwhile, little is known about what types of discipline are favored by parents in the US today.

In a recent poll, the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health presented a series of scenarios to parents with children 2-17 years old and asked how likely they were to use different discipline strategies with their child.

Parents’ Choices for Discipline Strategies

Parents were given behavior scenarios for children 2-5, 6-12 or 12-17 years old (depending on the ages of their own children). The most common discipline strategies parents report that they are “very likely” to use were: explain or reason with the child (88%), take away a privilege or something the child enjoys (70%), and time outs or grounding (59%) (Table 1). Many parents reported they were very likely to use more than one strategy.

Less than one-quarter of parents report that the they would be “very likely” to spank or paddle their children. Parents of preschool children are more likely to spank than parents of older children.

Parents who live in the West (31%) and South (20%) regions of the country are more likely to spank their children compared to parents in the Midwest (16%) and Northeast (6%).

Parents of children with behavioral or physical disabilities are less likely (13%) to spank compared with parents whose children do not have these health conditions (24%).

Implications

Recent media reports have alerted parents to the dangers of spanking, because of research indicating that young children who are spanked may grow up to be more aggressive. Results of this national study indicate that the vast majority of parents are already avoiding spanking and similar approaches like paddling. In fact, many parents reported that they use a variety of discipline techniques for their kids. In addition, parents overall showed that they tailor their discipline to the age of the child.

These poll results indicate that many parents feel they can use a variety of strategies, but what remains to be seen is how effective they think they are. While a great deal of research attention has focused on spanking, much less has looked at the results of discussion-based or privilege-removal approaches—in terms of how kids learn and how they develop emotionally.

Data Source

This report presents findings from a nationally representative household survey conducted exclusively by Knowledge Networks, Inc, for C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital via a method used in many published studies. The survey was administered January 1-18, 2010 to a randomly selected, stratified group of parents aged 18 and older (n= 1,532) with children 2-17 years of age from the Knowledge Networks standing panel that closely resembles the U.S. population. The sample was subsequently weighted to reflect population figures from the Census Bureau. The survey completion rate was 71% among parent panel members contacted to participate. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 to 7 percentage points for the main analysis.

C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health
Director: Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP
Associate Director: Sarah J. Clark, MPH
Manager & Editor: Dianne C. Singer, MPH
Data Analyst: Amy T. Butchart, MPH

This Report includes research findings from the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health, which do not represent the opinions of the investigators or the opinions of the University of Michigan.

[FOR PARENTS WITH A CHILD AGED 2 TO 17; IF MORE THAN ONE CHILD, PARENTS WERE ASKED A SERIES OF QUESTIONS ABOUT ONLY ONE RANDOMLY SELECTED CHILD]

Parents do many things to teach their children how to behave.  When their children misbehave, parents react in many different ways.  The following questions ask about ways you might react to behavior from your [INSERT AGE OF CHILD SELECTED] year old child.

Q1. Imagine that you see your [INSERT AGE OF 2-5 YEAR OLD CHILD] year old child chase a ball toward a busy street.  After getting your child away from the street, what would you do?

(select one response in each row)

  Not likely Somewhat likely Very likely
Take away a privilege or something the child enjoys      
Put the child in a time out      
Spank  the child      
Paddle the child      
Explain or reason with the child      

Q2.  Imagine that your [INSERT AGE OF 2-5 YEAR OLD CHILD] year old child talks back to you and calls you an extremely disrespectful name.  What would you do?
(select one response in each row)

  Not likely Somewhat likely Very likely
Take away a privilege or something the child enjoys      
Put the child in a time out      
Spank  the child      
Paddle the child      
Explain or reason with the child      

Q3.  Imagine that you have been telling your [INSERT AGE OF 2-5 YEAR OLD CHILD] year old child he/ she needs to leave the house right away for school or daycare, but your child ignores you.  What would you do?

(select one response in each row)

  Not likely Somewhat likely Very likely
Take away a privilege or something the child enjoys      
Put the child in a time out      
Spank  the child      
Paddle the child      
Explain or reason with the child      

Q4. Imagine that you see your [INSERT AGE OF 6-12 YEAR OLD CHILD] year old child playing with matches or a lighter. What would you do?
(select one response in each row)

  Not likely Somewhat likely Very likely
Take away a privilege or something the child enjoys      
Put the child in a time out      
Spank  the child      
Paddle the child      
Explain or reason with the child      

Q5. Imagine that your [INSERT AGE OF 6-12 YEAR OLD CHILD] year old child talks back to you and calls you an extremely disrespectful name.  What would you do?
(select one response in each row)

  Not likely Somewhat likely Very likely
Take away a privilege or something the child enjoys      
Put the child in a time out      
Spank  the child      
Paddle the child      
Explain or reason with the child      

Q6. Imagine that you have been telling your [INSERT AGE OF 6-12 YEAR OLD CHILD] year old child he / she needs to leave the house right away for school, but your child ignores you. What would you do?

(select one response in each row)

  Not likely Somewhat likely Very likely
Take away a privilege or something the child enjoys      
Put the child in a time out      
Spank  the child      
Paddle the child      
Explain or reason with the child      

Q7. Imagine that you see your [INSERT AGE OF 13-17 YEAR OLD CHILD] year old teen setting off large illegal fireworks. What would you do?
(select one response in each row)

  Not likely Somewhat likely Very likely
Take away a privilege or something he / she enjoys      
“Ground“ him or her      
Spank him / her      
Paddle him / her      
Explain or reason with him / her      

Q8. Imagine that your [INSERT AGE OF 13-17 YEAR OLD CHILD] year old teen talks back to you and calls you an extremely disrespectful name.  What would you do?

(select one response in each row)

  Not likely Somewhat likely Very likely
Take away a privilege or something he / she enjoys      
“Ground“ him or her      
Spank him / her      
Paddle him / her      
Explain or reason with him / her      

Q9. Imagine that you have been telling your [INSERT AGE OF 13-17 YEAR OLD CHILD] year old teen that he / she needs to leave the house right away for school, but your teen ignores you. What would you do?

(select one response in each row)

  Not likely Somewhat likely Very likely
Take away a privilege or something he / she enjoys      
“Ground“ him or her      
Spank him / her      
Paddle him / her      
Explain or reason with him / her      

Parent participants were also asked demographic questions on child age, gender, health status, and insurance status. Adults were also asked questions on race/ ethnicity, household income, education, health status and insurance status.

All information is the sole property of the University of Michigan CS Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health.  It can only be used if there is an acknowledgment that "The information came from, is copyright by and is owned by and belongs to the Regents of the University of Michigan and their C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health. It cannot be republished or used in any format without prior written permission from the University."

C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health
Director: Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP
Associate Director: Sarah J. Clark, MPH
Manager & Editor: Dianne C. Singer, MPH
Data Analyst: Amy T. Butchart, MPH
 

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Discipline strategies parents are very likely to use