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The Effects of Harsh Discipline on Child Behavior

Discipline is not just physical punishment. It can also be described as “the use of guilt, insult, shame, lack of love, and emotional blackmail to dominate or subdue a child’s behavior” (Mohammed & Samak, 2017, p. 1731). Children are more likely to experience negative discipline in low income homes with uneducated parents. The purpose of this literature review is to examine how negative discipline effects cognitive and social development, as well as aggression, and the subsequent relationship with their parents. The results of this review found that children who are routinely disciplined will have a tense relationship with their parents and show more signs of anxiety and aggression.

There are various ways to raise and discipline a child. The main predictors of how a child will be disciplined are the parents’ socioeconomic standing, marital status, and overall education. The goal of parenting is to teach children desired characteristics such as honesty, self control, kindness, integrity, and respectfulness, but unfortunately many parents rely on harsh discipline without truly realizing the physical and psychological effect it will have on their child.

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For the purpose of this paper, discipline is considered any form of child reprimand in order to improve or maintain a certain attitude or behavior. There are different techniques that are used when disciplining a child, but each style produces a different outcome (Mohammed & Samak, 2017).

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The effects of harsh discipline include aggression, non-compliance, externalizations, anxiety, and anti-sociality (Landsford, Deater-Deckard, Dodge, Bates, Pettit, 2004). To show these connections we will look at exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis, self-ratings, naturalistic observations, and correlational methods (Mohammed & Samak, 2017). The intent of this review is to examine the effect of harsh discipline on the child-parent relationship, determine how discipline shapes a child’s behavior, and to consider the three types of discipline styles and how they will influence a child’s behavior.

Exploratory and confirmatory analyses demonstrate that harsh discipline is related to education and parental income. Parents from a higher socioeconomic status tend to be more permissive with their discipline, and lower income families display harsher means of discipline. Also, it is found that parental education determines the level of harshness, because those that use violence usually are not well-educated. Parents are quick to resort to harsh discipline because they do not want spoiled kids or they may not want to justify their child’s demand (i.e., whining), but this discipline is detrimental to the parent-child relationship. The child will not go to the parents for comfort because more than likely it is the parents who are causing the pain (Mohammed & Samak, 2017). In turn this will put a strain on the relationship. Parents may believe that harsh discipline will ensure that their kids will not be lazy and that the pain will help them control reactions, but what they do not realize is that children become more hostile and do the opposite of what is wanted when physical discipline is administered, according to Patterson’s Social Coercion Theory of 1982 (Mohammed & Samak, 2017). When a child does not find punishment normal, it then becomes useless and will lead to more unwanted behaviors (Landsford et al., 2011). On the other hand, in a Saudi Arabian study 67.5% of people reported being physically punished and 65% of those punished people justified it. Because physical discipline is customary in the Saudi Arabian culture, the people did not perceive it as wrong so their response was not negative (Mohammed & Samak, 2017). This highlights the Deater-Deckard and Dodge (1997) cultural normative context perspective which states that the culture and context of harsh discipline will determine the improvement of a child’s behavior. This is the case because the meaning of discipline changes a child’s behavior, so if a child believes their parents’ main goal in administering physical discipline is to help them grow, this alone can counteract harsh discipline’s negative outcomes (Landsford et al., 2004). In a study of “normativeness” there was an examination on the various discipline techniques and how a child perceived them. The results of the study showed that harsh discipline was a stronger moderator of a child’s behavior if the discipline was found customary. That is to say, normativeness has a direct relationship on child beahvior and that is a crucial point for parents to identity (Lansford et al., 2011) The parent-child relationship plays a key role in how a child responds to discipline.

Three styles of discipline exist. Authoritarian discipline can be described as the more violent approach; as in beating, smacking, and spanking. The permissive approach is very hands off because parents do not want to make their child upset, so there is little to no boundaries set. In a longitudinal design carried out by Stice and Barrea (1995), it was found that there is a link between authoritarian and permissive discipline concerning substance abuse in teens (Lansford et al., 2011). Using a representative community sample it was also found that during the first 5 years of a child’s life, if they are exposed to physical discipline, they will show higher levels of reported behavior problems. Through physical discipline children learn that it is okay to deal with their problems in an aggressive way which in turn will make them more likely use aggression to deal with problems in the future (Lansford et al., 2004). Using children ages from 6-9, in a face-to-face interview, it was found that those kids were more likely to externalize behaviors due to harsh discipline. This agrees with the premise that 85% of studies show harsh discipline is not greatly linked with a child’s compliance (Mohammed & Samak, 2017). Studies have shown that routine discipline, including psychological discipline, will have a negative affect on a child’s cognitive and social development. Corporal punishment, expressing disappointment, and yelling produce child aggression while shaming and again expressed disappointment produce more child anxiety (Gershoff et al., 2010). The toxic stress of children stems from the negative experiences caused by harsh discipline. This is adverse because it can lead later in life to social, psychological, and developmental problems linked with criminal activity. The harsh punishment is also linked to lower empathy (Mohammed & Samak, 2017). Children whose parents routinely discipline them at a young age will show more signs of antisocial behavior (Lansford et al., 2009). This behavior is not only found through harsh discipline, but is also linked with mild discipline as well. In a meta-analysis study, 12 out of the 24 cases linked a connection between corporal punishment and antisocial behavior (Mohammed & Samak, 2017). A hypothesis can be made that prolonged use of moderate to mild physical discipline will increase the risk of antisocial behavior in adolescent ages (Lansford, 2009). In short, less physical discipline equates to less externalizing behaviors (Lansford et al., 2011). This can best be found in the last form of discipline, the authoritative method, and although the main point of this review is to examine how harsh discipline effects a child, it is still important to mention that not all forms of discipline are negative. The authoritative approach is the most ideal because it has to do with reasoning and verbal communication instead of violence or no punishment at all. This way of discipline will lead to less behavioral and psychological problems compared with the other two styles of discipline (Mohammed & Samak, 2017).

In conclusion, the use of harsh discipline has many negative affects on a child. From aggression to anxiety, and even later use of abused substances, harsh discipline will have affected a child in some adverse way. Higher use of discipline is found most in homes of low income families and also of parents with little education. Parents who resort to physical or psychological discipline will not have a good relationship with their child because they will not find comfort in the person causing them harm. This will eventually lead to antisocial behaviors. The three forms of discipline: authoritarian, permissive, and authoritative, all have different affects on a child’s behavior. The authoritarian and the permissive styles both will end up causing psychological and behavioral problems, and the authoritarian style in particular will lead to more child aggression and non-compliance. This is the case because the child learns from the parent that it is ok to be physical when upset. The authoritative style of parenting is most effective because it tends to a child’s emotional needs while still setting limits and consistently enforcing boundaries. With this approach of parenting, kids were reported to have less internalizing and externalizing behavior problems. A limitation of this research when recording the correlation between physical discipline and externalizing problems was the fact that there was no discernment between physical discipline and physical abuse (Lansford et al., 2004). In the future, it would be more beneficial to have research geared more towards the child’s inputs and opinions because they have the best insight to what is happening within themselves.

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The Effects of Harsh Discipline on Child Behavior. (2021, Apr 02). Retrieved from

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