January 12, 2007

Study tracks parents’ views on discipline

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Shari Barkin, M.D.

Study tracks parents’ views on discipline

Almost a third of parents say they don't think their methods of disciplining children are working very well, and many of those report using the same discipline their own parents used.

That finding comes in a study authored by Shari Barkin, M.D., chief of the Division of General Pediatrics at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt.

“Discipline is a central issue for parents, yet providers engage parents in limited ways on this topic.” Barkin said. “In this study, we altered the manner in which we asked families about discipline. This created a shared dialogue rather than a lecture.”

Barkin's broad, cross-sectional survey of parents from 32 states, Puerto Rico and Canada is entitled “Determinants of Discipline Practices: A National Sample from Primary Care Practices,” and is published in the January issue of the journal Clinical Pediatrics.

The results found a strong association between the discipline parents experienced as children and the methods they reported using with their own children. Forty-five percent reported using time-outs, 41.5 percent reported using removal of privileges, 13 percent reported yelling at their children and 8.5 percent reported the use of spanking “often or always.”

About 31 percent of parents surveyed responded they either “never” or “sometimes” perceived their methods to be effective.

“There was actually an inverse relationship between self-reports of yelling at children and perceived effectiveness of discipline,” Barkin said. “But we strongly suspect that both yelling and spanking might be underreported, because we know when parents perceive their methods are not working, as a third reported, then emotions can quickly escalate.”

More than a third of parents (38 percent) reported using the same methods of discipline they experienced when they were children. But those who reported using the same methods as their parents often considered their approach “ineffective.”

By the time children reached the 6- to 11-year-old age range, parents were about 25 percent less likely to report using time-outs and spanking as they were with younger children (ages 2 to 5). When children reached school age, parents reported a heavier use of taking away privileges and yelling. But even in the older age range, perception that the discipline might not be working persisted.