Academic journal article Family Relations

Forms of Spanking and Children's Externalizing Behaviors

Academic journal article Family Relations

Forms of Spanking and Children's Externalizing Behaviors

Article excerpt

Research suggests that corporal punishment is related to higher levels of child externalizing behavior, but there has been controversy regarding whether infrequent, mild spanking predicts child externalizing or whether more severe and frequent forms of corporal punishment account for the link. Mothers rated the frequency with which they spanked and whether they spanked with a hand or object when their child was 6, 7, and 8 years old. Mothers and teachers rated children's externalizing behaviors at each age. Analyses of covariance revealed higher levels of mother-reported externalizing behavior for children who experienced harsh spanking. Structural equation models for children who experienced no spanking or mild spanking only revealed that spanking was related to concurrent and prior, but not subsequent, externalizing. Mild spanking in one year was a risk factor for harsh spanking in the next year. Findings are discussed in the context of efforts to promote children's rights to protection.

Key Words: child aggression, corporal punishment, externalizing behavior, parental discipline, spanking.

In the developmental psychopathology literature, the term "externalizing behavior" generally refers to specific noncompliant, physically aggressive, defiant, and delinquent behaviors that are deemed inappropriate by parents or other authority figures (Dodge, Coie, & Lynam, 2006). Children whose externalizing behaviors are more frequent or severe than those of their same-aged peers may be diagnosed with externalizing disorders such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder or Conduct Disorder (Loeber, Burke, Lahey, Winters, & Zera, 2000). The etiology of these externalizing behaviors or disorders has been the focus of an enormous body of research. Numerous factors, including genetic influences (e.g., Arseneault et al., 2003; Rhee & Waldman, 2002) and nongenetic influences, ranging from peers (e.g., Harris, 1998) to environmental toxins such as lead (e.g., Dietrich, Ris, Succop, Berger, & Bornschein, 2001), may contribute to the development of externalizing behaviors. Parents are likely to play a major role, too, and they are often viewed as the prime socializing agents for their children (e.g., Maccoby, 1992).

Parents engage in a wide variety of behaviors that may be associated with the prevention or reduction of externalizing in their children, and parents utilize specific strategies to discipline their children or to punish particular acts of child externalizing. In fact, parents' failure to provide appropriate discipline for their children is frequently perceived, both by researchers and the general public, as one of the primary causal mechanisms in the development of child externalizing problems (e.g., Barkley, 2000). In describing how to prevent or reduce child externalizing behaviors Patterson (1982, p. Ill) stated, "If I were allowed to select only one concept to use in training parents of antisocial children, I would teach them how to punish more effectively," and Wells(1997,p. 338) stated that "parents of antisocial children simply cannot, or do not, punish well."

Prevention and intervention programs have targeted reducing parents' use of corporal punishment as a mechanism through which to reduce children's externalizing behaviors. This body of research includes a number of treatment outcome studies (e.g., Beauchaine, WebsterStratton, & Reid, 2005), prevention studies with high-risk groups (e.g., Martinez & Forgatch, 2001), and longitudinal observational studies (e.g., Galambos, Barker, & Almeida, 2003). For example, Martinez and Forgatch randomly assigned recently divorced mothers of boys in first through third grade to either a prevention intervention or a control group. Mothers in the intervention group were taught to decrease coercive cycles by using noncorporal punishment (e.g., time-out, privilege removal), to encourage prosocial behavior through contingent positive reinforcement, and to use positive parenting strategies (e. …

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