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"Negative Touch" Not Productive when Disciplining Children

Update Date: Aug 06, 2012 02:26 PM EDT

If you admit to reprimanding your children in public when they misbehave, you might be one of the few to do so.

A new study has revealed that parents get physical with their misbehaving children in public much more than they show in laboratory experiments and acknowledge in surveys.

The study was published in the current issue of the research journal Behavior and Social Issues

Researchers found that 23 percent of children received some type of "negative touch" - arm pulling, pinching, slapping and spanking when they failed to obey their parents in public places such as restaurants and parks.

The study was led by Michigan State University's Kathy Stansbury who said she wanted to get a realistic gauge of how often parents use what she calls positive and negative touch in noncompliance episodes with their children, in a real-world natural setting, outside the laboratory.

"I was very surprised to see what many people consider a socially undesirable behavior done by nearly a quarter of the caregivers," Stansbury said. "I have also seen hundreds of kids and their parents in a lab setting and never once witnessed any of this behavior."

University student researchers anonymously observed 106 discipline interactions between caregivers and children ages 3-5 in public places and recorded the results.

Surprisingly, researchers said they found that male caregivers touched the children more during discipline settings than female caregivers - and the majority of the time it was in a positive manner. Positive touch included hugging, tickling and patting.

She said this positive approach contradicts the age-old stereotype of the father as the parent who lays down the law.

"When we think of Dad, we think of him being the disciplinarian, and Mom as nurturer, but that's just not what we saw," Stansbury said. "I do think that we are shifting as a society and fathers are becoming more involved in the daily mechanics of raising kids, and that's a good thing for the kids and also a good thing for the dads."

They believe that positive touch caused the children to comply more often, more quickly and with less fussing than negative touch, or physical punishment and when negative touch was used, children complied, butoften pouted or sulked afterward.

"If your child is upset and not minding you and you want to discipline them, I would use a positive, gentle touch," Stansbury said. "Our data found that negative touch didn't work."

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