Physical punishment a health risk for
Outcomes include poorer academic achievement and
adjustment to school
Physical punishment of children is associated with the
development of antisocial behaviour in children, as well as poorer
academic achievement and adjustment to school, according to a review of
research by Otago University's Children's Issues Centre. The review
concludes physical punishment is a health risk for children.
The Children's Issues Centre surveyed more than 300
internationally published peer-reviewed research articles in its
investigation, which was commissioned by the Office of the Children's
Commissioner (see background sheet for more detail). Lead researcher
Professor Anne Smith says the research found physical punishment has
only limited success in making children compliant. Professor Smith says
the long-term effects of physical punishment were all negative.
“The literature is quite consistent in supporting the
conclusion that there is an association between the use of parental
corporal punishment and the development of antisocial behaviour in
- Aggression, disruptive, delinquent and
antisocial behaviour, being the victim of violent offending, violent
offending, and low peer status.
- Poorer academic achievement including lower
IQ, poorer performance on standardized achievement tests, poorer
adjustment to school, more ADHD-like symptoms, and poorer
- Diminished quality of parent-child relationships,
with children likely to be less securely attached to parents and
being more likely to feel that their parents do not love them, and
to feel fearful or hostile towards parents.
- Increased depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation,
and psychiatric disorders.
- Poorer conscience development and less internal
control by children over their own behaviour. In contrast the
research suggests six principles of effective discipline:-
- Parental warmth and involvement and attentive,
caring and affectionate relationships.
- Clear communication and messages to children,
which are age-appropriate, about why their behaviour is acceptable
- Use of reasoning, explanation, setting up logical
consequences and limit setting.
- Providing fair, reasonable and clearly defined
rules, boundaries and expectations for behaviour.
- Consistently following behaviours with
appropriate consequences rewards or mild non-physical punishments
such as time-out and having a ratio of about eight or nine
positive responses to children's behaviour, to one negative
- Structuring the situation to avoid encouraging
inappropriate behaviour, such as avoiding the provision of negative
models and changing the physical environment.
Children's Commissioner Dr Cindy Kiro says the
research has found that an authoritative and firm parenting style,
accompanied by warmth, responsiveness, involvement and reasoning is
associated with children's healthy social adjustment. “This is important
research because it gives parents evidence-based information about the
effects of physical punishment, as well as practical alternatives.”
Dr Kiro points out a recent UNICEF report shows New
Zealand had the third highest rate of deaths from child maltreatment in
the OECD. The full research findings will be released at a seminar on
the use of physical punishment organised by the Children's Issues
Centre, to be held in Wellington on 18-19 June 2004.
Important background information
The review has been written up as a detailed report but a shorter
version is being released to the public in June. The review and short
report were commissioned by the Office of the Children's Commissioner
and investigate a range of issues — including the effect of physical
punishment on children, why parents physically punish children,
effective family disciplinary practices and the legal framework for
family discipline. Did the researchers find that it is safe to use
physical punishment in any circumstances?
Lead researcher Professor Anne Smith says one of the
problems highlighted by the review is the lack of agreement over when
physical punishment steps over the line and becomes abuse. Professor
Smith points out in cases of physical abuse, about two thirds of the
time it is preceded by ordinary use of physical punishment for
discipline. The danger of physical punishment is that it can easily
escalate into physical abuse.
2 June 2004