Correlates and consequences of harsh discipline for young children

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1997 Aug;151(8):777-86. doi: 10.1001/archpedi.1997.02170450027004.


Objective: To examine the incidence, predictors, and consequences of harsh discipline in a sample of low-birth-weight children at 1 and 3 years of age.

Design: Analysis of data from the Infant Health and Development Program, an 8-site randomized clinical trial of low-birth-weight infants. The sample for analysis consisted of 715 children who were 3 years of age. The independent measurements of primary interest were the mother's hitting and scolding of her child as disciplinary practice. Analyses were run separately for boys and girls. Bivariate and logistic analyses were used to examine the predictors of the mother's hitting and scolding behavior. Multivariate analysis of variance was used to examine the consequences of the mother's harsh discipline on a child's IQ measured at age 3 years.

Main outcome measures: The mother's self-report of whether she used more than 1 physical punishment in the past week, as well as an observer's report from 2 home visits of whether the mother hit or scolded the child during the 2-hour home visit. In addition, the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale was used to examine the consequences of persistent harsh discipline on child well-being.

Results: Findings demonstrate child, maternal, and environmental factors that might aggravate a parent's use of corporal punishment. Boys received higher amounts of harsh discipline on all outcome measures. For boys, growing up in an impoverished home was predictive of the greater likelihood of receiving harsh punishment. Using IQ at age 3 years as the outcome measure, girls were found to be vulnerable to persistent harsh discipline and lack of maternal warmth. Maternal harsh discipline in a context of low maternal warmth was associated with IQ scores for girls that are 12 points lower than the IQ scores of girls who received low punishment and high warmth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Child Rearing / psychology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Infant
  • Infant, Low Birth Weight*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intelligence*
  • Logistic Models
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Parenting / psychology*
  • Poverty
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Punishment / psychology*
  • Risk Factors