Academic journal article Family Relations

The Effectiveness of Parental Discipline for Toddler Misbehavior at Different Levels of Child Distress

Academic journal article Family Relations

The Effectiveness of Parental Discipline for Toddler Misbehavior at Different Levels of Child Distress

Article excerpt

Despite decades of research on parental discipline, major controversies still remain. Leading research investigators have acknowledged that evidence is inconclusive about the effectiveness of alternative parental discipline responses to child misbehavior (e.g., Grusec & Goodnow, 1994; Patterson, 1982). Consider, for example, whether punishment (i.e., negative consequences) or reasoning should be preferred as a discipllne response to misbehavior. Behavioral parental training programs feature time out as a consequence for child misbehavior (e.g., Forehand & McMahon, 1981). The only form of reasoning in such training programs is a specification of the conditions for time out. On the other hand, cognitive socialization theorists recommend reasoning rather than punishments such as time out or spanking (e.g., Hoffman, 1977; Lepper, 1983).

This study is part of a research program designed to synthesize behavioral and cognitive views of socialization, and is one of the few attempts to do so. The program investigates the effectiveness of alternative parental discipline responses in delaying the next recurrence of toddler misbehavior. Of central interest in this particular study is how the effects of alternative discipline responses vary according to the level of child distress experienced following the parental discipline response.

Before summarizing the implications of behavioral versus cognitive theories for the role of child distress in discipline effectiveness, some definitions are in order. In this article, a discipline technique is a specific tactic used by a parent in response to an incident of child misbehavior. discipline response is a set of one or more discipline techniques that constitute the entire parental response to a particular misbehavior incident. Negative consequences or simply consequences refer to punitive discipline techniques or responses, including time out, withdrawal of privileges, and nonabusive spanking.

A child's emotional reaction to discipline is considered to be relevant for moral internalization according to behavioral and cognitive theories of socialization. First, behavioral theories hold that moral inhibition occurs because of conditioned anxiety. Conditioned anxiety, in turn, develops when misbehaviors are paired with negative consequences (Aronfreed, 1968). Behavioral studies of negative consequences have found that the greater the intensity of the consequences, the greater their effectiveness (Azrin & Holz, 1966; Matson & DiLorenzo, 1984; Van Houten, 1983). This suggests that the higher the level of a child's anxiety following negative consequences, the greater the resulting moral inhibition. Some laboratory analogue studies have found that the severity of negative consequences increased subsequent moral inhibition when no verbal component was included in the discipline response. However, the inclusion of reasoning reduced or eliminated the association between consequence severity and subsequent moral inhibition (Cheyne, Goyeche, & Walters, 1969; Cheyne & Walters, 1969; Parke, 1969).

Second, Hoffman's (1977, 1983) information-processing theory views the cognitive and affective aspects of discipline incidents as crucial for moral internalization. He divides discipline responses into three types: power assertion, love withdrawal, and induction. Power assertion depends on parents' power advantage relative to that of the child, that is, the use of force, deprivation of privileges, or threats. Love withdrawal techniques implicitly remove parental love toward the child, such as nonphysical expressions of parental anger or disapproval. Induction communicates reasons for the desired behavior, including connecting appropriate behavior to the child's desires or to its effect on other people. Most discipline responses have a power-assertive component, a love-withdrawal component, and an induction component. Mild forms of the first two components are considered necessary to get a child to pay attention to the induction component. …

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