Harsh Physical Discipline and Externalizing Behaviors in Children: A Systematic Review

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International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health


There is growing debate in the parenting literature as to whether using physical punishment to discipline children is an effective strategy or leads to the development of aggressive behaviors and other antisocial attributes. The aim of the current literature review is to examine the association between harsh physical discipline and the development of externalizing behaviors in children, as well as the suggested moderators of this relationship. Secondly, the findings regarding the effects of harsh physical discipline on children’s educational outcomes are reviewed. Articles were selected from relevant databases while maintaining an inclusion and exclusion criteria, with a total of 22 articles included in this review. Strong associations between parental corporal punishment and a range of child behaviors were indicated by the literature, and cultural normativeness was implicated as a moderator of these effects. Results regarding the role of parental warmth as a moderator did not provide a firm conclusion. Finally, the findings suggest that when a child is subjected to physical discipline in the home, their life at school may be adversely affected by impaired cognitive performance, peer isolation, and behavioral problems. The primary limitation of the studies reviewed is the use of self-report data and correlational analyses, ruling out the possibility of inferring causal relations. Nonetheless, the results indicate the necessity of encouraging parents and caregivers to avoid physical punishment as a disciplinary tactic while providing them with the tools to explore alternative practices.

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