In a press release for the American Psychological Association, Hamilton (2015) reviewed Larzelere’s presentation on effective parenting. Larzelere and his research team interviewed 102 mothers who described five times they disciplined their toddlers (ages 17 months to 3 years) for hitting, whining, defiance, negotiating, or not listening. The findings indicated that regardless of the type of behavior, compromising was the most effective for immediate behavioral improvement. For mildly annoying behaviors, reasoning was the next most effective. Punishments (e.g., timeout or taking away something) were more effective than reasoning for defiance or hitting; yet punishments were least effective for negotiating or whining. Additionally, reasoning was not effective for defiance or hitting.
When interviewed two months later, a different pattern emerged. Children were reportedly acting worse when mothers too frequently used compromising for hitting or defiance. Reasoning was reportedly the most effective over time, even though it was noted to be the least effective for these behaviors when used immediately. For defiant children, a moderate use of timeouts and other punishments resulted in improved behavior.
Hamilton (2015) also discussed Cipani’s research on punishment. Capani indicated that often timeouts do not work because they are not used properly. For example, spur of the moment timeouts are noted to not be effective. Capani indicated that children should know ahead of time what behaviors result in timeout and that consistent use of time out for specified behaviors has shown to significantly reduce problem behaviors.
Consequences of parental discipline style has been linked to both internalizing (e.g., withdrawal, anxiety, depression) and externalizing (e.g., aggression, delinquency, hyperactivity) behaviors in youth (Parent, McKee, & Forehand, 2016). Harsh discipline (e.g., physical or corporal punishment [hitting or spanking when angry]) often reinforces oppositional behavior (Granic & Patterson, 2006, as cited in Parent et al., 2016) and models hostile interaction patterns (Pettit et al., 1993, as cited in Parent et al., 2016). With regard to lax discipline (permissiveness and inconsistency), permissiveness often results in both internalizing and externalizing behaviors in children, where as inconsistency is associated with the development of more externalizing behavior than internalizing behavior (Parent et al., 2016).
Seesaw discipline, which is considered both harsh and lax, has been linked to high levels of internalizing problems in youth (Parent et al., 2016). Though parental education often focuses on the consequences of harsh and permissive discipline, it may be beneficial to discuss seesaw discipline as well, and paying close attention to the consequences of youth internalizing behaviors (Parent et al., 2016).
Further consideration related to parents suffering from psychopathology may also need to be discussed. Research has indicated that parents with psychopathology tend to create chaotic and unpredictable home environments, which may be aligned with inconsistent parental discipline (Parent et al., 2016); thus, psychoeducation and training for this population may be beneficial.
Dannie S. Harris
WKPIC Doctoral Intern
Hamilton, A. (2015). Punishing a child is effective if done correctly. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2015/08/punishing-child.aspx
Parent, J., McKee, L. G., & Forehand, R. J. (2016). Seesaw discipline: The interactive effect of harsh and lax discipline on youth psychological adjustment. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 25, 396-406.