Date of Award

Spring 2002

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Murray Straus


Corporal punishment (CP) is an acceptable and frequently used discipline tactic, with 94% of parents of 2- to 4-year-olds using it (Straus, 2001). Much of the parenting literature indicates that there are more positive ways to discipline a child (May, 2000; Sears & Sears, 1995; Spock & Parker, 1998). Yet, only a minority of parents raise children without CP.

Using Belsky's (1984) model of parenting, this study analyzed the 1985 National Family Violence Survey to compare this minority group of parents with those who use CP in order to understand the experiences and context associated with avoiding it. The extent to which parents rely on non-punitive discipline tactics was also investigated.

The sample included 824 parents of 2-to-6-year-olds. The categories for the dependent variable were CP avoidance, mild CP (spanking), or severe CP (hitting with an object). Parents who had physically abused their child were excluded. The results indicated more Hispanics, more parents of other ethnicities, and more African Americans avoided CP as compared to Euro-Americans. Euro-Americans had the largest percentage of parents who used mild CP. African Americans had the largest percentage of parents who used severe CP. More parents with less perception of stress, depression, and alcohol use avoided CP. More parents with low couple verbal aggression, low couple conflict and no couple violence avoided CP.

A multinomial regression analysis found that low couple verbal aggression and the absence of parent to child verbal aggression were associated with an increased likelihood of avoiding CP. The absence of couple violence increased the probability of avoiding CP as compared to mild CP. Low alcohol use increased the probability of avoiding CP as compared to severe CP.

Parents who avoided CP used a greater proportion of reasoning and a smaller proportion of verbal aggression as compared to parents who used mild or severe CP. The results suggest that addressing marital conflict resolution tactics and the extent to which parents rely on positive discipline strategies could help to increase the percent of parents who avoid CP. The results add to the body of knowledge on the theoretical conception of discipline by highlighting the importance of CP avoidance as a discipline tactic.