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Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. The authors used data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study to examine whether spanking at ages 1 and 3 is adversely associated with child cognitive skills and behavior problems at ages 3 and 5. from cross-lagged path analyses revealed spanking at age 1 to be associated with a higher level of both spanking and externalizing behavior problems at age 3, and spanking at age 3 to be associated with a higher level of both internalizing and externalizing behavior problems at age 5.
Additionally, the longer-term associations between spanking at age 1 and behavioral problems at age 5 appeared to predominantly operate through ongoing spanking at age 3. for cognitive skills, though less consistent, suggested no association between spanking at age 1 with poorer receptive vocabulary at age 3 or age 5. Spanking is a common practice among parents of young children in the United States. Whether spanking is an appropriate discipline strategy or is harmful to children remains the subject of ongoing debate, and numerous studies to date have generated somewhat mixed findings.
On the whole, however, whereas a minority of empirical studies suggest that spanking is an effective means of behavioral control that does not result in unintended developmental consequences or lasting damage to children Baumrind, ab; Larzelere, the preponderance of evidence suggests that it is an ineffective discipline strategy that is correlated with poor developmental outcomes Berlin et al. Existing research has also been limited in its ability to fully for the most likely reciprocal nature of the relation between spanking and child development, or to identify the causal direction of this relation.
We particularly focus on spanking at age 1, which has received less attention than spanking at older ages. As described below, our empirical strategy allows us to better for the reciprocal nature of the relation between spanking and child outcomes than has been possible in most prior work. For example, the transactional effects model of parent-child relations Sameroff, posits recurrent bidirectional influences between parent and. Parental discipline strategies are a form of socialization that may affect and be affected by child functioning and behavior.
There are many types of discipline, but one of the most heavily researched and hotly debated is corporal or physical punishment. Current evidence suggests that there are reciprocal relations between corporal punishment and child aggression First spanking et al. Despite its relatively widespread use, however, there is an ongoing debate about whether spanking is an appropriate discipline technique, particularly with regard to very young children, and several bodies of developmental theory imply that it has the potential to adversely affect child development.
Social learning theory Bandura,for example, suggests that children who are spanked may become more likely to adopt aggressive behaviors because their parents have modeled aggression to them as an acceptable form of behavior. First spanking, both psychoanalytic theory and attachment theory posit that spanking may lead to first spanking internalizing behavior problems for children. These internal working models are used in appraising and guiding behavior in new situations Bretherton, If such a pattern continues over time, the child may become depressed or anxious, or develop a sense of low selfesteem.
For example, studies have found that the cognitive functioning of maltreated children differs from that of their non-maltreated peers. Although this line of research has focused on child maltreatment, similar processes may suggest that harsh parenting and spanking will result in decreased cognitive functioning.
That is, to the extent that spanking causes ongoing stress for children, it may influence brain functioning in the areas of learning and memory, potentially leading to lower cognitive skills. Finally, the age at which children are spanked may also matter. In particular, children under age 1 may be at greater risk than older children of physiological and emotional damage as a result of spanking. Compared to older children, very young children are cognitively less able to understand why they are being spanked and to alter their behavior to avoid being spanked in the future Kopp, Thus, a better understanding of whether spanking prior to age 1 affects children differently than spanking at later ages may yield important implications regarding the range of potential consequences of such first spanking strategies at particular developmental stages.
A multitude of studies have examined links between corporal punishment or spanking and aggressive or other externalizing behavior problems for children. Fewer studies have examined the links between corporal punishment or spanking and internalizing behavior problems such as depression, anxiety, and withdrawn behaviors. Finally, there is considerably less evidence linking physical discipline and cognitive skills, although, Berlin et al. Most empirical studies to date have also been unable to disentangle the causal direction of any such associations.
Thus, the extent to which spanking causes behavior problems or other adverse outcomes, as opposed to being first spanking by such problems, is unclear. Indeed, most existing studies have relied on linear regression strategies that cannot for the reciprocal relationships between spanking and child outcomes and, therefore, offer limited insight into the causal direction of these relations for exceptions, see, Berlin et al.
This analytic approach allows us to explicitly for the reciprocal nature of relations between spanking and child outcomes by simultaneously modeling associations of spanking at ages 1, 3, and 5 with both future spanking and concurrent and future developmental outcomes, as well as associations of child behavior problems and cognitive skills with future spanking and future developmental outcomes.
As such, our analyses represent a more stringent examination of the direction of the relation between spanking and child outcomes than has been possible in most prior work, although we caution that, like those of prior work, our estimates do not lend themselves to causal interpretation.
Our research explicitly builds on three recent first spanking Berlin et al. In analyses that are most similar to ours, Berlin et al. We extend this work by testing whether the associations between spanking and child outcomes identified at ages 1 and 3 in their work persist at age 5 among an urban birth cohort that shares many similar characteristics to the families in the EHS study although the populations sampled, study des, and many of the measures utilized differ across the two studies.
In a second study, Taylor et al. However, this study was unable to speak to the full effects of spanking during early childhood because the analysis began at age 3 and was therefore silent with regard to any influence of spanking that occurred prior to age 3. Furthermore, it may be important to estimate the influence of spanking throughout the distribution of behavior problems, rather than simply its influence on whether falls above or below the median. We analyze relations between spanking at ages 1, 3, and 5 with continuous measures of child outcomes at ages 3 and 5 in an attempt to more fully elucidate the range of these associations throughout early childhood.
In addition to examining the link between spanking and behavior problems throughout the behavior problem distribution, rather than the probability of falling in the tail end of the distribution, our work also extends this study by focusing on spanking as early as age 1 and by ing for continued spanking between ages 1 and 5 Slade and Wissow did not adjust for ongoing spanking.
Considering both whether children are spanked as early as age first spanking and also whether they experience ongoing spanking is important given concerns that spanking at such an early age may, in and of itself, have particularly adverse consequences for children Berlin et al. Finally, in addition to examining cognitive skills and externalizing behavior problems, we also examine whether spanking is associated with internalizing behavior problems, which was not considered in any of the aforementioned studies.
On the whole, this research contributes to our understanding of the myriad of complex ways in which spanking and child development are interconnected.
Our data are drawn from FFCW, a longitudinal birth cohort study of 4, children born between and in 20 U. By de, FFCW over-sampled children born to unmarried parents. Given that sample families are relatively disadvantaged compared to the U. As such, from that study and ours are well suited for comparison: consistency or differences in between the two studies may have implications for whether associations observed in each are likely to reflect the specific analytic sample or may more generally be characteristic of relatively disadvantaged populations in the United States. In each of these interviews, parents provided detailed information about family and household characteristics, resources, structure, and functioning; program participation; physical and mental health; and parenting behaviors.
Mothers who refused an in-home visit were asked to complete the questionnaire portion of the in-home module by first spanking. Both the spanking data and the cognitive and behavioral outcomes at ages 3 and 5 were drawn from the in-home modules. Spanking data at age 1 were drawn from the core telephone interview. We limited our analysis sample to the 3, families that had completed at least one in-home interview either in person or by phone when the child was either age 3 or 5 in order to ensure that first spanking had at least one non-missing observation point for one or more of the child outcomes.
As with all longitudinal studies, FFCW contains missing data at each data collection point. Multiple imputation assumes that data are missing at random conditional on observed data and therefore uses non-missing data to predict values for the missing data. Specifically, we imputed 10 data sets, as recommended by Graham and colleaguesusing information from all variables included in our analyses.
For those mothers who had a co-resident partner or spouse, it reflects the most frequent spanking reported. For example, if was spanked every day by his or her father or a social father but only once or twice in the past month by his or her mother, the child was coded as being spanked every day.
Each item is scored on a 0 to 2 point scale such that higher scores indicate more severe behavior problems. Items first spanking then summed to create the various CBCL subscales. We used the aggressive subscale 15 items at age 3 and 20 items at age 5, with alphas of. The PPVT-R is a receptive vocabulary test that has been widely used to measure children's language and cognitive ability and has a reliability coefficient ranging from. Thus our for cognitive skills will not be directly comparable to those of Berlin et al.
As discussed above, a considerable concern in analyses such as ours is how best to for reciprocal relationships between spanking and child functioning. Because cognitive skills and behavior problems in FFCW were measured at only ages 3 and 5, we cannot for these factors at age 1. However, the study did measure child emotionality via mother report at age 1.
It is likely to be associated with later cognitive skills and behavior problems as well as with maternal spanking. We controlled for a variety of time-invariant and time-varying factors that prior studies have found to be associated with spanking Belsky, ; Berlin et al. Time-varying factors measured at child ages 1, 3, and 5 included maternal depression, household income, whether the mother was single, whether the child participated in Early Head Start at age 1 and Head Start at ages 3 or 5, whether the mother worked in the past week, the first spanking adults living in the household, and the of children living in the household.
We include Early Head Start and Head Start participation as covariates both because involvement in such programs may influence parental spanking behaviors Love et al. We estimated a series of cross-lagged path models using a maximum likelihood structural equation modeling SEM approach Kline, A simplified version of our conceptual model is presented in Figure 1. Our goal was to simultaneously estimate: 1 associations of spanking at ages 1, 3, and 5 with cognitive skills or behavior problems at ages 3 and 5; 2 associations of the developmental outcome at age 3 with both spanking and the outcome at age 5; and 3 associations of child emotionality at age 1 with both spanking and cognitive skills or behavior problems at ages 3 and 5.
In addition, though omitted from the figure for ease of presentation, we control for the full set of time invariant covariates at age 1 and the full set of time-period relevant time-varying covariates at ages 1, 3, and 5. In order to gain insight into the influence of both ongoing spanking at age 3 and the age 3 developmental outcome first spanking the association between age 1 spanking and the age 5 outcome, for each outcome we engaged in a model building exercise in which we first estimated three simplified versions of the model before estimating the full model depicted in Figure 1.
We began our model building with a simple model Model A in which we estimated only the effects of age 1 spanking on age 5 spanking and the age 5 outcome, constraining all other paths to be equal to zero.
In Model B, we added the age 3 outcome to assess the extent to which the direct effect of age 1 spanking on the age 5 outcome is explained by the effect of age 1 spanking on the outcome at age 3, constraining all other paths to be zero. In Model C, we included the first spanking 3 spanking measure, but excluded the age 3 outcome, constraining all other paths to be zero. This model enabled us to assess the extent to which ongoing spanking may explain the association between spanking at age 1 and cognitive skills or behavior problems at age 5.
Model D is the full model, which provides simultaneous estimates of all of these direct and indirect paths, as well as within-wave correlations between spanking and the developmental outcome. For this model, we calculated all of the indirect pathways through which spanking at age 1 is associated with the relevant outcome at age 5 in order to gain insight into the potential mediating roles of age 3 spanking and the age 3 developmental outcome. In all of our primary models, the spanking measures are defined in terms of the frequency with which the child was spanked at a given time point.
All time invariant covariates including age 1 emotionality and all time-period relevant time-varying covariates were included in all models. We examined first spanking fit statistics for each model in order to determine how well the model fit the data.
Specifically, we present the chi-square statistic, for which a p-value of greater than.
Although there is ongoing debate regarding which of these fit statistics should be preferred and in what particular circumstances, as well as which particular values thereof should be considered to indicate good, adequate, and poor fit see, e. Furthermore, we compared the fit of our more parsimonious and more complex models using the Bayesian Information Criteria BIC in order to determine if the more complex models fit the data better. A decrease in BIC from a more parsimonious to a more complex model indicates improved model fit Kline, In addition to our primary first spanking, we also engaged in supplemental analyses in which we estimated 4 alternative specifications of Model D the full model in order to investigate the robustness of our primary.
First, we estimated a version using dichotomous indicators of whether the child was spanked at each time point in lieu of the spanking frequency measures. Third, we estimated a version in which we coded the spanking variables to indicate the age at which spanking was initiated onsetcomparing children who began being spanked at age 1, age 3, and age 5 to children who were never spanked.
All models were estimated using Mplus 6. Table 1 presents descriptive statistics for our full sample and by spanking status at ages 1, 3, and 5. Descriptive information averaged over 10 multiply imputed datasets. Means and standard errors or proportions for dichotomous variables presented. In addition, the descriptive statistics in Table 1 clearly reveal differences in child behavior problems and child cognitive skills at ages 3 and 5 according to whether or not was spanked at ages 1, 3, and 5.
On the whole, children who were spanked at age 1 exhibited higher first spanking of first spanking and internalizing behavior problems at ages 3 and 5 and poorer cognitive skills at age 3 relative to those who were not spanked at age 1. Children who were spanked at age 3 exhibited more externalizing behavior problems at ages 3 and 5 and more internalizing behavior problems at age 5, but also slightly higher cognitive skills at age 5. Finally, children spanked at age 5 exhibited higher levels of externalizing behavior problems at ages 3 and 5 and more internalizing behavior problems at age 5; there were no differences in cognitive skills at either age.
The raw data also revealed considerable differences between children who were and were not spanked in terms of child emotionality at age 1 as well as a host of background characteristics.
Children with higher emotionality scores at age 1 were more likely to be spanked at each subsequent age. Furthermore, children who were spanked tended to have younger mothers who had higher depression scores than those of children who were not spanked.
Black children and boys were particularly likely to have been spanked, whereas Hispanic children were less likely to experience spanking. In addition, children who were spanked at age 1 were more first spanking to live with a single mother at ages 1, 3, and 5, as well as to attend Head Start at ages 3 and 5, than those who were not spanked at age 1. Finally, children who were spanked at age 1 experienced lower household income and more maternal work at ages 1, 3, and 5 compared to those who were not spanked at age 1. Conversely, however, children who were spanked at age 3 experienced slightly higher income than those who were not spanked at age 3; there were no differences in spanking by household income at age 5.
We next turn to from cross-lagged path analyses that adjust for these factors. Figure 2 presents from the most basic model Model A. The model fit statistics suggest that this simple model did not fit the data very first spanking. However, when we added age 3 externalizing behavior problems to the model Model B; Figure 3 the model fit was improved considerably as indicated by the decrease in the BIC statistic and the RMSEA indicated adequate model fit.
In Model C Figure 4we included a measure of age 3 spanking frequency in place of the age 3 externalizing behavior problems measure. Again, this model demonstrated an improvement in model fit relative to Model A, and the First spanking suggested adequate model fit we did not compare Models B and C to one another because they are alternatives to each other; Model C does not build upon Model B. Although we caution that direct interpretation of the coefficients and changes therein from Models A through C should be avoided given that particularly Model A fit the data relatively poorly, a general pattern emerged that suggests that there is no direct association between spanking at age 1 and externalizing behavior at age 5 once either the indirect effect of age 1 spanking through age 3 spanking or age 3 externalizing behavior problems is taken into.
As discussed below, this pattern was supported by from Model D, which fit the data quite well. Model A standardized coefficients for cross-lagged path analysis of spanking at ages 1 and 5 and externalizing behavior problems at ages 1 and 5.First spanking
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Spanking and Child Development Across the First Decade of Life