Attitudes predict the use of physical punishment: a prospective study of the emergence of disciplinary practices

Pediatrics. 2006 Jun;117(6):2055-64. doi: 10.1542/peds.2005-2204.


Objective: We sought to track the emergence of discipline techniques by mothers of young children and assess the predictive validity of spanking attitudes with subsequent reports of spanking.

Methods: One hundred thirty-two mothers were surveyed every 6 months (beginning when their child was 12 months old until they were 4 years old) regarding how they disciplined their children. The discipline behaviors measured included physical punishment, noncoercive methods, and the use of time-outs and withdrawal of privileges. Attitudes toward spanking also were assessed several times.

Results: When their infants were 12 months old, mothers reported using 10 of the 12 discipline techniques assessed, and by the time the children were 24 months old, most mothers reported widespread use of the techniques. The frequency of use increased with age. Although the use of some discipline methods changed as the children got older, the mothers showed significant stability in their overall discipline strategy. Attitudes toward spanking (assessed when their children were 6 months old) were significantly correlated with subsequent spanking behavior, and the mothers' attitudes showed stability over time as well.

Conclusions: By the time infants are 12 months old, discipline is a frequent occurrence in many families. A variety of techniques are used, and attitudes toward spanking predict subsequent spanking behavior. This information is useful for pediatricians, because it provides parents with anticipatory guidance about disciplining young children.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Punishment / psychology*