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Spanking May Be More Common Than Parents Admit

Small study 'eavesdropped' on family interactions with preschoolers

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Barbara Bronson Gray

HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, April 29, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Ask any busy parent of preschool children: Early evening can be a stressful time. Now a small new study that audiotaped families soon after they returned home from work and day care suggests that spanking is surprisingly common.

Among 33 families, the researchers discovered 41 incidents of spanking or hitting children in 15 different families over a six-night period. What's more, the spanking didn't seem to resolve problems. After being hit, children were misbehaving again within 10 minutes in about 75 percent of the incidents.

The study was published online recently in the Journal of Family Psychology.

The research was originally designed to study the impact of yelling and to test the value of using audio recorders to do research on families, said lead study author George Holden, a professor of psychology at the Southern Methodist University in Dallas. He expanded the scope of the research after studying the tapes.

Holden found that parents who yell are more likely to spank their children. He also discovered that audiotaping is more accurate than are self-reports, when parents estimate how much yelling and spanking occur in their homes. "We did show that it's a very rich way to capture a wide assortment of information that is often ignored," he said.

"Parents are hitting their children over trivial misdeeds and some of the moms are doing it a lot more than the self-report data has ever identified," Holden said. "Recordings give us real-time information, which self-reports cannot."

Holden designed the study to focus on evening behavior because he has often heard mothers refer to early evening as the "hell hour" or the "suicide hour."

"It's a very difficult time, trying to pull dinner together and deal with the kids, and I thought it would be likely to elicit anger," Holden said. "It's stacked up against harmonious interactions."

Although a cause-and-effect relationship between spanking and behavioral problems was not shown, the study suggests that hitting children is not a good way to teach them or promote parent-child relationships, Holden said.

"It doesn't work. But more than that, it can result in behavioral problems like aggression, or anxiety and depression," he said.

Nationwide, 70 percent to 90 percent of parents hit or slap their children, Holden said. Yet spanking is not recommended by most experts in child psychology.

Another expert said that evidence does not support spanking.

"Based on 20 years of research on physical punishment, it is recommended that it should not be used on children of any age," said Tracie Afifi, an associate professor in the department of community health sciences at the University of Manitoba, in Winnipeg, Canada.

In a study published in Pediatrics in 2012, Afifi found that spanking or slapping children may increase the odds they will develop mental health issues into adulthood.

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