Is the Use of Physical Discipline Associated with Aggressive Behaviors in Young Children?

Richard Thompson, Kim Kaczor, Douglas J. Lorenz, Berkeley L. Bennett, Gabriel Meyers, Mary Clyde Pierce*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Objective To determine the association between use of physical discipline and parental report of physically aggressive child behaviors in a cohort of young children who were without indicators of current or past physical abuse. Methods The data for this study were analyzed from an initial cohort of patients enrolled in a prospective, observational, multicenter pediatric emergency department-based study investigating bruising and familial psychosocial characteristics of children younger than 4 years of age. Over a 7-month period, structured parental interviews were conducted regarding disciplinary practices, reported child behaviors, and familial psychosocial risk factors. Children with suspected physical abuse were excluded from this study. Trained study staff collected data using standardized questions. Consistent with grounded theory, qualitative coding by 2 independent individuals was performed using domains rooted in the data. Inter-rater reliability of the coding process was evaluated using the kappa statistic. Descriptive statistics were calculated and multiple logistic regression modeling was performed. Results Three hundred seventy-two parental interviews were conducted. Parents who reported using physical discipline were 2.8 (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.7–4.5) times more likely to report aggressive child behaviors of hitting/kicking and throwing. Physical discipline was used on 38% of children overall, and was 2.4 (95% CI, 1.4–4.1) times more likely to be used in families with any of the psychosocial risk factors examined. Conclusions Our findings indicated that the use of physical discipline was associated with higher rates of reported physically aggressive behaviors in early childhood as well as with the presence of familial psychosocial risk factors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)34-44
Number of pages11
JournalAcademic Pediatrics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017


  • corporal punishment
  • psychosocial risk factors
  • spanking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


Dive into the research topics of 'Is the Use of Physical Discipline Associated with Aggressive Behaviors in Young Children?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this