To describe maternal discipline of children in at-risk families and to determine factors associated with disciplinary practices.
At-risk families in North Carolina followed up in a longitudinal study of child maltreatment.
Maternal caregivers of 7- to 9-year-old children with factors at birth that placed them at risk.
Measurements and Results
A total of 186 maternal caregivers were interviewed. A measure, based on coding parental responses, was used to assess disciplinary practices for 5 different misbehaviors. Limit setting was the most commonly used disciplinary practice for 4 of 5 misbehaviors, with 63% of mothers reporting that this method generally worked best. Spanking was more likely used as a secondary response for each misbehavior, when the primary one had not succeeded. Conversely, teaching or verbal assertion was always less likely as a secondary response. Teaching or verbal assertion was used more commonly for lying than for any other misbehavior, limit setting for disobeying, spanking for stealing, and spanking with an object for being disrespectful. Regression modeling for the 4 most common disciplinary practices showed (P<.05) that black race, lack of Aid to Families With Dependent Children receipt, more-educated mothers, and female sex of child were associated with higher use of teaching or verbal assertion; a biological father in the home was associated with less use of limit setting; and black race and report for child maltreatment were associated with more use of mild spanking.
In this sample, limit setting was the most common disciplinary technique. Disciplinary practices used varied depending on the type of misbehavior and other contextual factors, including child, parent, and family characteristics.