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Child Disciplinary Practices

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Punishments can be divided into many different categories but in this study 2 different types of child punishment were used and researched, corporal punishment or punitive discipline known to many as spanking, inductive punishment. Child disciplinary practices are a necessary part of child rearing. They involve training and helping children to develop judgment, a sense of boundaries, self-control, self-sufficiency, and a positive social conduct. For the purposes of this study, two classifications of child disciplinary practices were explored: power-assertive and punitive discipline, and inductive discipline. Inductive discipline (e.g. reasoning) is believed to help children to develop empathic skills, appealing to the child's sense of reason and fairness. Conversely, punitive discipline (e.g. psychological aggression, corporal punishment) is believed to foster anger and unwillingness to comply, besides providing a model of aggression. Participants were children and adolescents from six public schools belonging to the catchment area of the primary care unit of the Hospital de Clínicas de Porto Alegre, Brazil, assessed between October of 2010 and March of 2011. An association was observed between the higher frequencies of power-assertive and punitive discipline and bullying perpetration in children and adolescents. All maternal power-assertive and punitive disciplines were overall statistically associated with bullying behavior by their children, as well as most of the paternal of power-assertive and punitive discipline. The inductive discipline used by both parents was not overall statistically associated with the outcome. In this sample, females had committed physical, verbal, and indirect forms of bullying as much as males. This finding differs from another Southern-Brazilian sample, where males were more than twice as likely to be aggressors. Psychological aggression was the most frequent child disciplinary practice and it showed the highest association with bullying behavior. In adolescence, the use of corporal punishment usually decreases, since they become too old to be spanked. Conversely, it is also a period when parent-child conflicts increase, causing the parents’ use of psychological aggression, rather than physical, to be more likely. Similarly, the nature of bullying also changes with age: while in young children both physical and verbal aggressions are common, as they age physical aggression tends to decrease while verbal and indirect forms of aggression increase. This may suggest a pattern of imitative behavior of the parents’ manner of dealing with conflicts. The current use of high levels of psychological aggression does not mean that other forms of physical punishment were not used in their childhood. Although the questionnaire asked about experiencing child disciplinary practices specifically in the previous year, the actual outcome measured may be somewhat associated with previous experiences.
About one third of the students of this sample were corporally punished at least once a week, a number in conformity with previous research in Brazil. Recently, associations between experiencing spanking and willingness to strike in order to solve conflicts between peers have also been found. Gershoff argues that, when parents use corporal punishment, they are teaching their offspring that hitting is an acceptable way of dealing with interpersonal conflicts. Trembley indicates that aggression is a natural tool children use to obtain what they want, and that learning to regulate these natural behaviors is generally called ‘socialization’. Discipline involves fostering many desirable behaviors that are not part of a child's natural repertoire, but that need to be taught through parental attention, encouragement, and explanation. Conversely, corrective discipline is as necessary as preventive, since children frequently test the limits previously established. Failure to take corrective action is a risk factor for child behavior problems, as inadequate corrective discipline is an important aspect of child neglect. Therefore, some power-assertive discipline is essential to establish clear limits and reduce undesirable behaviors. However, punishment should not be delivered in a way that depreciates, shames, or puts the child at risk of harm, as it occurs with corporal punishment and psychological aggression.

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