Parents get physical with unruly kids, study finds

August 3, 2012

Parents get physical with their misbehaving children in public much more than they show in laboratory experiments and acknowledge in surveys, according to one of the first real-world studies of caregiver discipline.

The study, led by Michigan State University's Kathy Stansbury, found that 23 percent of received some type of "negative touch" when they failed to comply with a parental request in public places such as restaurants and parks. Negative touch included arm pulling, pinching, slapping and spanking.

"I was very surprised to see what many people consider a socially undesirable behavior done by nearly a quarter of the caregivers," Stansbury said. "I have also seen hundreds of kids and their in a lab setting and never once witnessed any of this behavior."

Stansbury is a trained psychologist and associate professor in MSU's Department of Human Development and Family Studies. With the study, she wanted to get a realistic gauge of how often parents use what she calls positive and negative touch in noncompliance episodes with their , in a real-world natural setting, outside the laboratory.

A group of university student researchers anonymously observed 106 discipline interactions between caregivers and children ages 3-5 in public places and recorded the results. The data were vetted, analyzed and published in the current issue of the research journal Behavior and .

Stansbury said another surprising finding was that male caregivers touched the children more during discipline settings than female caregivers – and the majority of the time it was in a positive manner. Positive touch included hugging, tickling and patting.

She said this positive approach contradicts the age-old stereotype of the father as the parent who lays down the law.

"When we think of Dad, we think of him being the disciplinarian, and Mom as nurturer, but that's just not what we saw," Stansbury said. "I do think that we are shifting as a society and fathers are becoming more involved in the daily mechanics of raising kids, and that's a good thing for the kids and also a good thing for the dads."

Ultimately, positive touch caused the children to comply more often, more quickly and with less fussing than negative touch, or physical punishment, Stansbury said. When negative touch was used, even when children complied with physical punishment, they often pouted or sulked afterward, she said.

"If your child is upset and not minding you and you want to them, I would use a positive, gentle touch," Stansbury said. "Our data found that negative touch didn't work."

Explore further: Mothers' self-recorded audio gives unique real-time view of spanking in context of day-to-day life

More information: news.msu.edu/media/documents/2 … 092-92bce97a183d.pdf

Related Stories

Mothers' self-recorded audio gives unique real-time view of spanking in context of day-to-day life

June 22, 2011
In one recording, a mom spanks her 3-year-old 11 times for fighting with his sister. In another, a mom slaps her son for turning the page of a book while she reads to him. In still another, a mom spanks her 5-year-old when ...

Don't spank or scream: Tips for taming unruly kids

June 10, 2011
Do you ever swat your child on the behind? Let’s hope not. Over the past few decades, numerous studies have concluded that spanking isn’t the best or most effective way to discipline a child successfully.

Physical punishment of children potentially harmful to their long-term development

February 6, 2012
An analysis of research on physical punishment of children over the past 20 years indicates that such punishment is potentially harmful to their long-term development, states an article in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association ...

Parents' behavior linked to kids' videogame playing

September 7, 2011
Children who think their parents are poor monitors or nag a lot tend to play videogames more than other kids, according to a study by Michigan State University researchers.

Recommended for you

New study rebuts the claim that antidepressants do not work

August 18, 2017
A theory that has gained considerable attention in international media, including Newsweek and the CBS broadcast 60 minutes, suggests that antidepressant drugs such as the SSRIs do not exert any actual antidepressant effect. ...

Should I stay or should I leave? Untangling what goes on when a relationship is being questioned

August 17, 2017
Knowing whether to stay in or leave a romantic relationship is often an agonizing experience and that ambivalence can have negative consequences for health and well-being.

Kids learn moral lessons more effectively from stories with humans than human-like animals

August 17, 2017
A study by researchers at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto found that four to six-year-olds shared more after listening to books with human characters than books with anthropomorphic ...

History of stress increases miscarriage risk, says new review

August 17, 2017
A history of exposure to psychological stress can increase the risk of miscarriage by upto 42 per cent, according to a new review.

Study finds children pay close attention to potentially threatening information, avoid eye contact when anxious

August 17, 2017
We spend a lot of time looking at the eyes of others for social cues – it helps us understand a person's emotions, and make decisions about how to respond to them. We also know that adults avoid eye contact when anxious. ...

Communicating in a foreign language takes emotion out of decision making

August 16, 2017
If you could save the lives of five people by pushing another bystander in front of a train to his death, would you do it? And should it make any difference if that choice is presented in a language you speak, but isn't your ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

PeterD
5 / 5 (1) Aug 03, 2012
Another study proving what anyone with a brain already knows.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.