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Parents Yell and Spank More as Kids Get Older

Discipline Practices Vary by Child's Age, Parents' Ethnicity, Emotions

WebMD Health News

June 8, 2004 -- What makes a parent choose a time out over a spanking to discipline a child? A new study suggests that the parent's level of frustration as well as the child's age may have a lot to do with it.

Researchers found three times as many highly frustrated parents say they use spanking frequently to discipline their children compared with less frustrated parents. But most parents report using spanking as a form of discipline by the time their child reaches age 3.

The study also shows that more adolescent parents and black parents report more frequent spanking than others, and Spanish-speaking parents are less likely to use time outs or take a toy away in disciplining their children.

How Parents Discipline Children

In the study, researchers looked at how often more than 2,000 parents of very young children used common discipline practices and what factors were related to the use of the following strategies:

  • Yelling
  • Spanking
  • Time out
  • Toy removal
  • Providing explanations

The results appear in the June issue of Pediatrics.

Among parents of children aged 19 to 35 months, providing explanations was the most frequently used discipline strategy (90%) followed by using time out (70%), yelling (67%), taking away a toy or treat (65%), and spanking (26%).

The study showed one of the most significant factors affecting discipline choices -- such as yelling and spanking -- was the age of the child. For example, researchers found that the older the child was, the more likely the parent reported yelling at the child frequently as a form of discipline.

  • 13% of parents reported yelling often or sometimes at infants 4 to 9 months of age.
  • 47% of parents said they yelled often or sometimes at children between 10 and 18 months of age.
  • 67% of parents with children between 19 and 35 months reported yelling often or sometimes.

The use of spanking also increased with child age, with 6% of parents of infants between the ages of 4 and 9 months saying they had ever spanked their child, and 64% of parents of 19-to-35-month-year-old children reporting spanking.

In addition, researchers found that the parent's emotional well-being was also associated with greater use of yelling and spanking. The study showed frustration with child rearing increased during the first three years of life, and this increase prompted more parents to react in a harsh manner, such as by yelling or spanking.

However, the study also showed that mothers who were employed reported less frustration, which suggests that work may provide a respite from the demands of child rearing for working mothers.

Researchers say the findings show that many factors affect parents' discipline strategies and understanding those dynamics can help health-care providers and counselors provide parents with guidance about discipline.

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