As Dr Larzelere's review of quality studies documents, a blanket injunction against disciplinary spanking by parents is not scientifically supportable. My brief commentary will consist of seven propositions that pertain to his conclusions.
The effects of parents' disciplinary methods are mediated by children's perception of their legitimacy. Reasoning with a child helps to legitimate parental authority, but to be maximally effective when a child disobeys, reasoning must be backed up periodically by consequences.
Reasoning used in conjunction with power-assertive methods clarifies the behavioral contingencies for the child by specifying what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior. When compliance cannot be obtained by repeating the directive, the addition of aversive consequences, which can include a couple of smart spanks, may be indicated. With defiant children, an additional aversive consequence enhances the effectiveness of time-out.1 Brief explanations prior to or subsequent to punishment convey the purpose behind the rules, simultaneously reinforce their inevitability, and allow the child to evaluate the reasons given. Reasoning broadens the context in which compliance is expected by generalizing from a specific act to a rule governing the larger class of behavior expected of the child. By explaining the objectives of discipline, parents enable their children to control punishment by controlling the behavior on which punishment is contingent.
The use of reasoning in conjunction with power-assertive methods, including physical punishment, can encourage internalization.
The judicious and limited use of power-assertive methods, including punishment, does not prevent children from internalizing parents' values.2 For example, power assertion together with explanations has been shown to increase rather than to decrease the likelihood that children will share even after instructions to do so are discontinued.3
- Copyright © 1996 by the American Academy of Pediatrics