Nearly Half Of Parents Physically Disciplined Their Child In The Past Month: Study

A large number of parents are confused, guilty and overwhelmed and feel they are not coping with raising their children, a new study has found.

Researchers from the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne have found one in four Australian parents feel stressed every day by their child's behaviour according to their latest child health poll data.

Research Director and paediatrician Dr Anthea Rhodes said she was surprised to find out how many parents reported they were stressed or overwhelmed.

"It was really a message that parents are not alone and it's very common for parents to feel that they are not coping," Rhodes told ten daily.

Rhodes said the findings also suggested that the community has unreasonable expectations of children, with one in three parents believing their children should be on their best behaviour at all times.

"Understanding that tantrums and meltdown and things like negotiating and debating about what's okay at all ages and stages is a part of normal childhood," Rhodes said.

Perhaps alarmingly a significant proportion of Australian children have been physically disciplined by parents or their carers in the last month.

Four percent of parents reported physically disciplining their child "quite a lot or most of the time" and a further 13 percent said they used physical discipline some of the time.

Another 24 percent said they had rarely physically disciplined their child in the last month, which Rhodes said their research interpreted to mean as 'at least once'.

The study also found 51 percent of Australian parents believe it is unrealistic to think that parents should never use physical discipline.

Source: RHC National Child Health Poll report

Rhodes told ten daily that while their research hadn't looked at this statistic in the past, when measured against other similar studies it appeared to show that over time physical discipline has become less common, but the results were still cause for some concern.

"Physical discipline can have long-lasting negative effects on a child, including reduced self-esteem and psychological harm," Rhodes said, adding that it was also not an effective deterrent.

"Children who experience aggressive discipline are also more likely to develop aggressive behaviour themselves."

She added that parents had also been asked whether they had experienced physical discipline in their own upbringing and the vast majority, 88 percent, said they had.

"Those parents that reported experiencing it quite a lot were more likely to use physical discipline with their own children."


Clinical psychologist John Gardiner said he was not surprised about the new poll data and said from a clinical environment perspective the statistic was closer to 50-50.

"It's sad that it's still at such a high rate considering what we know about the success rate," Gardiner told ten daily.

Gardiner said the use of physical discipline in children peaks at around a primary school age and is more commonly used on boys than girls.

Source: Getty Images

He said physical discipline has both negative short and long term effects.

"In terms of the short term effects we know that it is not an effective punishment because it doesn’t change the rate and frequency of these behaviours," Gardiner said.

"In the longer term the concern is more about the relationship that's developed between the parent and the child."

Gardiner said children learn about trust from their initial relationship with their parents and coercive parenting styles ranging from sarcasm, to emotional neglect, punishment or even assault can be incredibly harmful for children.

"That relationship that we learn from the child to the parent influences our relationships not only when we become parents but also with others, including future partners," Gardiner said.

READ MORE: Why Kids Lie, And When You Should Start To Worry

He said that even if people choose to consciously object to the model later on in life as parents, it has already acted as a template to establishing behaviour.

Source: Getty Images

Gardiner believes the trend for using physical discipline is going down for the overall population and said he is encouraged by governments promoting effective programs.

"When I first started working clinically 25 years ago parents were quire proud of [using physical punishment] but that was when we had corporal punishment at school," Gardiner said.

He added that today most parents use physical discipline when they get desperate and are often reluctant and show guilt after "because of an awareness that it won't provide a solution."

"But there is a proportion of the population that have used physical discipline across multi-generations," he said, adding that parents now more commonly slap pr  more severe corporal punishments had dropped a. 

"Breaking that cycle requires a higher effort and access to resources that they just don’t currently have."

Rhodes and Gardiner suggest a lot of parents feel overwhelmed when parenting because of other stresses in their daily lives.

"It's not an easy job for anyone and some people have a lot to deal with," Gardiner told ten daily.

He said self-regulation was a strategy often offered to parents when they find themselves overwhelmed of managing their child.

Rhodes also suggested speaking to an expert if parents are very concerned, but added it was important to remember that there is a difference between a child acting out and a child who is just behaving badly.

Source: Getty Images

She said that if a child's behaviour difficulties are affecting their ability to learn, play, socialise, eat and sleep well regularly, then they could be red flags to seek more help for their children.

Rhodes said a lot of parents were very critical of themselves and said it was important to reach out to family and friends and have the opportunity to de-stress and encouraged self-care.

READ MORE: Modern Parents Looking For More 'Me Time' Than Previous Generations

The Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne is also encouraging parents to promote positive reinforcement via their #catchthembeinggood campaign on social media.

The Child Health poll study of 2044 parents or carers across Australia is conducted quarterly with a different main focus in each report.

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