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Ann Marie Halpenny, Elizabeth Nixon & Dorothy Watson. Background and Context . Links between parental discipline responses, child behaviour and children's psychological well-being (Smith et al, 2005; Gershoff , 2002; Parke , 2002; Eisenberg et al, 2001)

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Ann Marie Halpenny,

Elizabeth Nixon &

Dorothy Watson


Background and Context

  • Links between parental discipline responses, child behaviour and children's psychological well-being (Smith et al, 2005; Gershoff, 2002; Parke, 2002; Eisenberg et al, 2001)

  • Parenting in changing family contexts

    • Diverse family forms

    • Work life balance

  • Inductive, power-assertive and love-withdrawal discipline strategies

  • Physical punishment of children – definitions and prevalence

  • Legislative context


  • Study Objectives

  • The primary aims of this research are to

    • identify the main parenting styles and forms of discipline used by parents with children up to 18 years

    • identify extent to which parents use physical punishment as a discipline strategy with their children

    • identify parental attitudes to the legislative position in relation to physical punishment and children.

Study Design & Methods

Telephone survey methodology adopted

Interviews with 1,353 parents, with at least one child under 18 years of age

Standardised measures of parenting style, child behaviour and child temperament



Survey Questionnaire

  • General views on parenting in Ireland

  • Attitudes toward physical punishment and contexts in which it occurs

  • Details of household and randomly selected child

  • Parenting styles

  • Discipline strategies experienced by parents in their childhood

  • Discipline strategies adopted by parents with child in past year

  • Physical punishment

  • Attitudes toward legislation on the use of physical punishment

  • Demographic background of the respondent



Key Findings on Parental Use of Discipline Strategies

Non-aggressive discipline strategies

 e.g. Discussed issue calmly, time out, grounding child

Psychologically aggressive discipline strategies

 e.g. Refuse to talk to child, shout or yell, threaten to smack or hit child

Physical punishment

 e.g. Smack or slap child, hit child with instrument, shake, push or grab child



Non-Aggressive Discipline Strategies

Time-out more likely to be used with children in middle childhood (aged 5-9 years) and less likely to be used by parents in the oldest age category (45 years and over)

Grounding more likely to be used with children in early adolescence (aged 10-14 years) and more likely to be used by parents aged between 35 and 44

Fathers  less likely than mothers to threaten to tell someone else as a discipline response.



Psychologically-Aggressive Discipline Strategies

  • Threatening to smack a child  more likely to be used with children in middle childhood (aged 5-9 years) and less likely to be used by parents in the oldest age category (45 years and over)

  • Calling a child stupid or lazy  more likely to be used with older adolescents (aged 15-17 years)

  • Fathers  less likely than mothers to walk out (of the room or house) on a child as a response to a disciplinary incident.






Key Factors Associated with Higher Incidence of Physical Punishment

  • Parents with children aged 2-9 years  more likely to slap children in response to child misbehaviour

  • Parents in the youngest age category (under 35)  more likely to slap a child on the bottom, hands, arms or legs than parents in other age groups

  • Parents whose children had hyperactivity and/or conduct difficulties (as measured by the SDQ)  more likely to have used physical punishment in the past year

  • Parents who, during their own childhood had been smacked and parents who had been hit with an instrument (such as a slipper or hairbrush)  more likely to have used physical punishment with their children in the past year.




Key Findings on Attitudes to Physical Punishment Punishment

Perceived effectiveness of physical punishment

  • Achieving immediate compliance

  • Preventing future misbehaviour

    Rationales for using physical punishment

  • Stop child doing something dangerous

  • Stop bad behaviour quickly

  • Underline seriousness of child’s behaviour

    Contexts in which physical punishment likely to occur

  • Repeated child defiance or aggression

  • Situational factors



Key Findings on Attitudes to Legislation on Physical Punishment

Parental awareness of current status of law on physical punishment in Ireland

Parental awareness of proposed changes to law on physical punishment in Ireland

Parental attitudes to banning physical punishment with children




Conclusions Comparison with UK Studies

  • Non-aggressive discipline strategies most prevalent among Irish parents

  • Incidence of physical punishment among parents in Ireland is low compared to similar UK-based studies

  • Ambivalence evident in parental attitudes to the use of physical punishment with children

  • Discipline strategies need to be considered in the broader context of parenting and the specifics of the disciplinary incident

  • Physical punishment often used as an adjunct, rather than as an alternative, to other discipline strategies

  • Parents did not widely endorse legal prohibition of physical punishment


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