Skip to main content

Comparing Child Outcomes of Physical Punishment and Alternative Disciplinary Tactics: A Meta-Analysis

Abstract

This meta-analysis investigates differences between the effect sizes of physical punishment and alternative disciplinary tactics for child outcomes in 26 qualifying studies. Analyzing differences in effect sizes reduces systematic biases and emphasizes direct comparisons between the disciplinary tactics that parents have to select among. The results indicated that effect sizes significantly favored conditional spanking over 10 of 13 alternative disciplinary tactics for reducing child noncompliance or antisocial behavior. Customary physical punishment yielded effect sizes equal to alternative tactics, except for one large study favoring physical punishment. Only overly severe or predominant use of physical punishment compared unfavorably with alternative disciplinary tactics. The discussion highlights the need for better discriminations between effective and counterproductive use of disciplinary punishment in general.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  1. *Aronfreed, J. (1961). The nature, variety, and social patterning of moral responses to transgression. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 63, 223–241.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  2. Aronfreed, J. (1968). Aversive control of socialization. In W. J. Arnold (Ed.), Nebraska Symposium on Motivation (Vol. 16, pp. 271–320). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Axelrod, S., & Apsche, J. (Eds.). (1983). The effects of punishment on human behavior. New York: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Bauman, L. J., & Friedman, S. B. (1998). Corporal punishment. Pediatric Clinics of North America, 45, 403–414.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Baumrind, D. (1973). The development of instrumental competence through socialization. In A. D. Pick (Ed.), Minnesota Symposia on Child Psychology (Vol. 7, pp. 3–46). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Baumrind, D. (1983). Specious causal attributions in the social sciences: The reformulated stepping-stone theory of heroin use as exemplar. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45, 1289–1298.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. Baumrind, D. (1991). The influence of parenting style on adolescent competence and substance use. Journal of Early Adolescence, 11, 56–95.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Baumrind, D., Larzelere, R. E., & Cowan, P. A. (2002). Ordinary physical punishment: Is it harmful? Comment on Gershoff (2002). Psychological Bulletin, 128, 580–589.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. *Bean, A. W., & Roberts, M. W. (1981). The effect of time-out release contingencies on changes in child noncompliance. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 9, 95–105.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. Bee, H. (1998). Lifespan development (2nd ed.). Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Bell, R. Q., & Harper, L. V. (1977). Child effects on adults. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Benjet, C., & Kazdin, A. E. (2003). Spanking children: The controversies, findings, and new directions. Clinical Psychology Review, 23, 197–224.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. Berger, K. S., & Thompson, R. A. (1995). The developing person through childhood and adolescence (4th ed.). New York: Worth.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Bornstein, M. H., & Lamb, M. E. (Eds.). (1988). Developmental psychology: An advanced textbook (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Brezina, T. (1999). Teenage violence toward parents as an adaptation to family strain: Evidence from a national survey of male adolescents. Youth & Society, 30, 416–444.

    Google Scholar 

  16. *Burton, R. V., Maccoby, E. E., & Allinsmith, W. (1961). Antecedents of resistance to temptation in four-year-old children. Child Development, 32, 689–710.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. Campbell, D. T., & Boruch, R. F. (1975). Making the case for randomized assignment to treatments by considering the alternatives: Six ways in which quasi-experimental evaluations in compensatory education tend to underestimate effects. In C. A. Bennett & A. A. Lumsdaine (Eds.), Evaluation and experiment: Some critical issues in assessing social programs (pp. 195–296). New York: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Campbell, D. T., & Erlebacher, A. E. (1970). How regression artifacts in quasi-experimental evaluations can mistakenly make compensatory education look harmful. In J. Hellmuth (Ed.), Disadvantaged child: Vol. 3. Compensatory education: A national debate (pp. 185–210). New York: Brunner/Mazel.

    Google Scholar 

  19. *Chapman, M., & Zahn-Waxler, C. (1982). Young children’s compliance and noncompliance to parental discipline in a natural setting. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 5, 81–94.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  21. *Coopersmith, S. (1967). The antecedents of self-esteem. San Francisco, CA: Freeman.

    Google Scholar 

  22. *Crowne, D. P., Conn, L. K., Marlowe, D., & Edwards, C. N. (1969). Some developmental antecedents of level of aspiration. Journal of Personality, 37, 73–92.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Damer, T. E. (1980). Attacking faulty reasoning. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

    Google Scholar 

  24. *Day, D. E., & Roberts, M. W. (1983). An analysis of the physical punishment component of a parent training program. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 11, 141–152.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  25. EPOCH-Worldwide. (2004). Legal reform: Corporal punishment of children in the family. Retrieved on October 27, 2004 from http://www.stophitting.com/laws/legalReform.php.

  26. Etaugh, C., & Rathus, S. A. (1995). The world of children. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Eyberg, S. (1993). The spank back-up in time-out with preschool children. Unpublished manuscript, University of Florida, Gainesville.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Eysenck, H. (1993). Letter to the editor: Hitting the right cause. The Psychologist, 6, 392.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Friedman, S. B., & Schonberg, S. K. (1996a). Consensus statements. Pediatrics, 98, 852–853.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Friedman, S. B., & Schonberg, S. K. (1996b). [Personal statement]. Pediatrics, 98, 857–858.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Gershoff, E. T. (2002). Corporal punishment by parents and associated child behaviors and experiences: A meta-analytic and theoretical review. Psychological Bulletin, 128, 539–579.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  32. Glass, G. V., McGaw, B., & Smith, M. L. (1981). Meta-analysis in social research. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Graziano, A. M., Hamblen, L., & Plante, W. A. (1996). Subabusive violence in child rearing in middle-class American families. Pediatrics, 98, 845–848.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  34. *Grinder, R. E. (1962). Parental childrearing practices, conscience, and resistance to temptation of sixth grade children. Child Development, 33, 803–820.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  35. Grogan-Kaylor, A. (2004). The effect of corporal punishment on antisocial behavior in children. Social Work Research, 28, 153–162.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Grolnick, W. S., Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1997). Internalization within the family: The self-determination theory perspective. In J. E. Grusec & L. Kuczynski (Eds.), Parenting and children’s internalization of values (pp. 135–161). New York: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Grusec, J. (1997). A history of research on parenting strategies and children’s internalization of values. In J. E. Grusec & L. Kuczynski (Eds.), Parenting and children’s internalization of values (pp. 3–22). New York: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Grusec, J. E., & Goodnow, J. J. (1994). Impact of parental discipline methods on the child’s internalization of values: A reconceptualization of current points of view. Developmental Psychology, 30, 4–19.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Gunnoe, M. L., & Mariner, C. L. (1997). Toward a developmental-contextual model of the effects of parental spanking on children’s aggression. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 151, 768–775.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  40. *Hall, E. C. (1994). A correlational analysis of parental conflict resolution practices and 4- and 5-year-old children’s interpersonal problem-solving skills and verbal abilities in a preschool setting (Doctoral dissertation, University of San Francisco, 1994). Dissertation Abstracts International, 55(12A), 3785.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Harris, J. R. (1998). The nurture assumption. New York: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Hedges, L. V. (1994). Fixed effects models. In H. Cooper & L. V. Hedges (Eds.), The handbook of research synthesis (pp. 285–300). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Hoffman, M. L. (1970). Conscience, personality, and socialization techniques. Human Development, 13, 90–126.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  44. Hoffman, M. L. (1977). Moral internalization: Current theory and research. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 10, pp. 85–133). New York: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Holden, G. W. (1997). Parents and the dynamics of child rearing. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Ispa, J. M., & Halgunseth, L. C. (2004). Talking about corporal punishment: Nine low-income African American mothers’ perspectives. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 19, 463–484.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Johnson, B. T. (1989). DSTAT: Software for the meta-analytic review of research literatures. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  48. Kadushin, A., & Martin, J. A. (1981). Child abuse: An interactional event. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Kochanska, G., Padavich, D. L., & Koenig, A. L. (1996). Children’s narratives about hypothetical moral dilemmas and objective measures of their conscience: Mutual relations and socialization antecedents. Child Development, 67, 1420–1436.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  50. Larzelere, R. E. (2000). Child outcomes of nonabusive and customary physical punishment by parents: An updated literature review. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 3, 199–221.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  51. Larzelere, R. E. (2001). Combining love and limits in authoritative parenting. In J. C. Westman (Ed.), Parenthood in America (pp. 81–89). Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Larzelere, R. E. (2002). The effectiveness of alternative disciplinary tactics in reducing various types of noncompliance within extended discipline episodes. Unpublished manuscript, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha.

    Google Scholar 

  53. Larzelere, R. E. (2004). Weighted analyses of the Canadian prevalence of physical punishment by children’s age from Cycle 1 of the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth. Unpublished raw data.

  54. Larzelere, R. E., Baumrind, D., & Polite, K. (1998). Two emerging perspectives of parental spanking from two 1996 conferences. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 152, 303–305.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  55. Larzelere, R. E., & Johnson, B. (1999). Evaluation of the effects of Sweden’s spanking ban on physical child abuse rates: A literature review. Psychological Reports, 85, 381–392.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  56. *Larzelere, R. E., Klein, M., Schumm, W. R., & Alibrando, S. A., Jr. (1989). Relations of spanking and other parenting characteristics to self-esteem and perceived fairness of parental discipline. Psychological Reports, 64, 1140–1142.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  57. Larzelere, R. E., Kuhn, B. R., & Johnson, B. (2004). The intervention selection bias: An underrecognized confound in intervention research. Psychological Bulletin, 130, 289–303.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  58. *Larzelere, R. E., Sather, P. R., Schneider, W. N., Larson, D. B., & Pike, P. L. (1998). Punishment enhances reasoning’s effectiveness as a disciplinary response to toddlers. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 60, 388–403.

    Google Scholar 

  59. *Larzelere, R. E., Schneider, W. N., Larson, D. B., & Pike, P. L. (1996). The effects of discipline responses in delaying toddler misbehavior recurrences. Child & Family Behavior Therapy, 18(3), 35–57.

    Google Scholar 

  60. *Larzelere, R. E., & Smith, G. L. (2000, August). Controlled longitudinal effects of five disciplinary tactics on antisocial behavior. Paper presented at the meeting of the American Psychological Association, Washington, DC.

    Google Scholar 

  61. Lipsey, M. W., & Wilson, D. B. (1993). The efficacy of psychological, educational, and behavioral treatment: Confirmation from meta-analysis. American Psychologist, 48, 1181–1209.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  62. Lipsey, M. W., & Wilson, D. B. (2001). Practical meta-analysis. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  63. *Lytton, H. (1977). Correlates of compliance and the rudiments of conscience in two-year-old boys. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 9, 242–257.

    Google Scholar 

  64. Matson, J. L., & Taras, M. (1989). A 20 year review of punishment and alternative methods to treat problem behaviors of developmentally delayed persons. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 10, 85–104.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  65. *McClelland, D. C., & Pilon, D. A. (1983). Sources of adult motives in patterns of parent behavior in early childhood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44, 564–574.

    Google Scholar 

  66. McNeil, C. B., Clemens-Mowrer, L., Gurwitch, R. H., & Funderburk, B. W. (1994). Assessment of a new procedure to prevent timeout escape in preschoolers. Child & Family Behavior Therapy, 16(3), 27–35.

    Google Scholar 

  67. *Minton, C., Kagan, J., & Levine, J. A. (1971). Maternal control and obedience in the two-year-old. Child Development, 42, 1873–1894.

    Google Scholar 

  68. National Institutes of Health. (1991). Treatment of destructive behaviors in persons with developmental disabilities (NIH Publication No. 91-2410). Bethesda, MD: Author.

    Google Scholar 

  69. Newsom, C., Favell, J. E., & Rincover, A. (1983). Side effects of punishment. In S. Axelrod & J. Apsche (Eds.), The effects of punishment on human behavior (pp. 285–316). New York: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  70. Patterson, G. R. (1982). Coercive family process. Eugene, OR: Castalia Press.

    Google Scholar 

  71. *Ritchie, K. L. (1999). Maternal behaviors and cognitions during discipline episodes: A comparison of power bouts and single acts of noncompliance. Developmental Psychology, 35, 580–589.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  72. *Roberts, M. W. (1984). An attempt to reduce timeout resistance in young children. Behavior Therapy, 15, 210–216.

    Google Scholar 

  73. *Roberts, M. W. (1988). Enforcing chair timeouts with room timeouts. Behavior Modification, 12, 353–370.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  74. Roberts, M. W., & Powers, S. W. (1990). Adjusting chair timeout enforcement procedures for oppositional children. Behavior Therapy, 21, 257–271.

    Google Scholar 

  75. Rothman, K. J., & Greenland, S. (1998). Modern epidemiology (2nd ed.). Philadelphia: Lippincott-Raven.

    Google Scholar 

  76. *Sears, R. R. (1961). Relation of early socialization experiences to aggression in middle childhood. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 63, 466–492.

    Google Scholar 

  77. *Sears, R. R., Maccoby, E. E., & Levin, H. (1957). Patterns of child-rearing. New York: Harper & Row.

    Google Scholar 

  78. Shadish, W. R., Cook, T. D., & Campbell, D. T. (2002). Experimental and quasi-experimental designs for generalized causal inference. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

    Google Scholar 

  79. Shadish, W. R., & Haddock, C. K. (1994). Combining estimates of effect size. In H. Cooper & L. V. Hedges (Eds.), Handbook of research synthesis (pp. 261–281). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

    Google Scholar 

  80. Simons, R. L., Lin, K.-H., & Gordon, L. C. (1998). Socialization in the family of origin and male dating violence: A prospective study. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 60, 467–478.

    Google Scholar 

  81. Smith, D. (2002). Journal article reignites debate over corporal punishment. Monitor on Psychology, 33(8), 14.

    Google Scholar 

  82. Statistics Sweden. (1996). Spanking and other forms of physical punishment (Demography, the Family, and Children 1996:1.2). Stockholm: Author.

    Google Scholar 

  83. Stattin, H., Janson, H., Klackenberg-Larsson, I., & Magnusson, D. (1995). Corporal punishment in everyday life: An intergenerational perspective. In J. McCord (Ed.), Coercion and punishment in long-term perspectives (pp. 315–347). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  84. *Straus, M. A. (2001). Beating the devil out of them: Corporal punishment in American families and its effects on children (2nd ed.). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

    Google Scholar 

  85. Straus, M. A., & Mouradian, V. E. (1998). Impulsive corporal punishment by mothers and antisocial behavior and impulsiveness of children. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 16, 353–374.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  86. Straus, M. A., & Paschall, M. J. (1998, August 1). Corporal punishment by mothers and child’s cognitive development: A longitudinal study. Paper presented at the 14th World Congress of Sociology, Montreal, Canada.

  87. Straus, M. A., & Stewart, J. H. (1999). Corporal punishment by American parents: National data on prevalence, chronicity, severity, and duration, in relation to child and family characteristics. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 2, 55–70.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  88. Straus, M. A., Sugarman, D. B., & Giles-Sims, J. (1997). Spanking by parents and subsequent antisocial behavior of children. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 151, 761–767.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  89. *Tennant, F. S., Jr., Detels, R., & Clark, V. (1975). Some childhood antecedents of drug and alcohol abuse. American Journal of Epidemiology, 102, 377–385.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  90. Turner, H. A., & Muller, P. A. (2004). Long-term effects of child corporal punishment on depressive symptoms in young adults: Potential moderators and mediators. Journal of Family Issues, 25, 761–782.

    Google Scholar 

  91. Walters, G. C., & Grusec, J. E. (1977). Punishment. San Francisco: Freeman.

    Google Scholar 

  92. *Watson, D. G. (1989). Parenting styles and child behavior: A study of retrospective reports from parents of 2500 high school students (Doctoral dissertation, State University of New York at Buffalo, 1989). Dissertation Abstracts International, 50(7B), 3181.

    Google Scholar 

  93. Webster-Stratton, C. (1990). Enhancing the effectiveness of self-administered videotape parent training for families with conduct-problem children. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 18, 479–492.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  94. *Yarrow, M. R., Campbell, J. D., & Burton, R. V. (1968). Child rearing: An inquiry into research and methods. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    Google Scholar 

  95. *Zahn-Waxler, C., Radke-Yarrow, M., & King, R. (1979). Child rearing and children’s prosocial initiations toward victims of distress. Child Development, 50, 319–330.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Robert E. Larzelere.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Larzelere, R.E., Kuhn, B.R. Comparing Child Outcomes of Physical Punishment and Alternative Disciplinary Tactics: A Meta-Analysis. Clin Child Fam Psychol Rev 8, 1–37 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10567-005-2340-z

Download citation

Keywords

  • children
  • parenting
  • discipline
  • punishment
  • spanking