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Periodic Survey #38 Attitudes and Counseling on Corporal Punishment in the Home

American Academy of Pediatrics
Division of Child Health Research


This report presents findings from Periodic Survey #38 on pediatricians' attitudes and counseling practices regarding corporal punishment in the home initiated by the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health (COPACFH). These data were collected to help guide the COPACFH in assessing the need for developing further education in this area. The survey was conducted from October through March 1998; after six mailings we received a response rate of 62.0%. Other questions on this survey addressed pediatricians' experiences with violence-related injuries, including child abuse, domestic violence and community violence. These analyses are based on responses from 603 post-residency Fellows who provide direct patient care.

Opinion Regarding Use of Corporal Punishment

Opinion about the use of corporal punishment in the home varies. Findings reflect the complicated nature of the issue: most pediatricians cannot choose a simple "for" or "against" statement.

  • 53.4% of pediatricians say they are generally opposed to the use of corporal punishment by parents, although they believe an occasional spanking under certain circumstances can be an effective form of discipline.
  • 31.4% of pediatricians are completely opposed to the use of corporal punishment by parents under any circumstances.
  • 14% of pediatricians say they support, in principle, the limited use of corporal punishment by parents.
  • Only 1.5% are unsure regarding their stance on the use of corporal punishment.

Current Practices Regarding Counseling on Discipline

When counseling parents on disciplining their child, nearly all pediatricians recommend parents use positive reinforcement of good behavior (99.1%) and non-physical methods of punishment for negative behavior, such as time out or removal of privileges (97.8%). More than half (53.4%) discuss the pros/cons of corporal punishment with parents. A large portion of pediatricians (43.7%) say they meet with some parents to change their discipline practices.

Many pediatricians are counseling parents to limit or eliminate the use of corporal punishment:

  • About half of pediatricians (49.0%) discourage use of corporal punishment under any circumstance.
  • Four out of ten pediatricians (42.3%) report they recommend corporal punishment be used only under limited circumstances or/and with specific conditions or rules.
  • Nine percent of pediatricians make no recommendation regarding corporal punishment.

Only 35.3% of pediatricians say all or most parents seek their recommendation regarding discipline; 52.7% say some parents do so and 12% say none of their patients' parents seek their recommendation regarding discipline.

Views on Issues Surrounding Corporal Punishment

  • Most pediatricians (82.7%) are comfortable discussing corporal punishment with parents; 13.6% are unsure.
  • More than three-fourths believe they have adequate knowledge of the effectiveness of various child discipline methods (78.2%) and adequate skills to counsel families on discipline methods (76.2%).
  • Three-fourths of pediatricians (76.5%) are interested in further training in working with families on their discipline methods
  • One-half (50.3%) of pediatricians believe pediatricians must try to eliminate the practice of spanking as a form of discipline.
  • Four in ten pediatricians (42.5%) say there is insufficient time in health maintenance visits to address discipline issues; 34.3% think there is sufficient time.

Personal Experiences With Corporal Punishment

Three-fourths of pediatricians (73.9%) report being spanked as a child; only 11.6% say it was the form of discipline most commonly used by their parents.

Only 35.4% of pediatricians say they use spanking as one form of discipline with their own children, and almost no pediatricians (less than 1 percent) say spanking is the most commonly used method of discipline.

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