MONDAY, Aug. 23 (HealthDay News) -- Young children raised in a household where one or both parents are aggressive or violent toward each other are more likely to be spanked, new research shows.
The study found that 65 percent of 3-year-olds were spanked at least once in the previous month, and in families that reported parental aggression toward another parent, the use of corporal punishment along with aggression or violence against another parent occurred in one out of two homes.
"The purpose of the study was to better understand patterns of common aggression and violence in families between parents and also parents' use of spanking with 3-year-olds," said study author Catherine Taylor, an assistant professor of community health sciences at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.
"The children who had the highest chance of being spanked had parents who were aggressive or violent to each other, and there was a greater chance of being spanked by the victim of the partner aggression," said Taylor.
Results of the study were published online Aug. 23 and will appear in the September print issue of the journal Pediatrics.
Taylor pointed out that unlike some other studies that have been done on parental aggression and violence and the use of corporal punishment, this study focused on what some might consider more minor aggressive behaviors between parents, rather than violent domestic abuse.
"The kind of aggression we're talking about is fairly common psychological aggression and controlling behaviors -- doing things like preventing someone from seeing friends or family or withholding or taking money, or insulting and criticizing the partner," she said.
The study included nearly 2,000 families with a 3-year-old child. The families were from large cities across the United States. About 37 percent of the family members were black, about 30 percent were Hispanic and about 28 percent were white.
The mothers' education level broke down about evenly, with around 27 percent of the women having completed less than high school, another 27 percent having graduated high school and 27 percent having had some college. Almost 19 percent finished college. The average income was about $50,000, Taylor said.
The parents were married in 60 percent of the families, according to the study.
The researchers found that almost two-thirds of the 3-year-olds had been spanked at least once by one or both parents in the previous month.
In homes where both parents were aggressive or violent toward each other, the odds of a child getting spanked were doubled, the study reported.
"It's really not a surprise that if you're violent toward a partner or a partner is violent to you that you're more willing to spank your child. But what's really surprising is that something we know isn't effective with kids is still so accepted and used," said Lori Evans, a clinical assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at The Child Study Center at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City.
"It all goes back to the old analogy that while you need a license to drive a car, nobody ever says you should take a basic parenting class before becoming a parent. It's all about prevention, and teaching parents how to cope with stress and teach alternative ways to discipline," Evans said.
Taylor added: "Parents that find themselves in relationships where there's aggressive or controlling behavior, even if it's minor, may want to seek counseling for themselves and for the good of their children. They may not realize how the stress they're experiencing can play out in how they're choosing to discipline their children."
Learn more about alternative ways to discipline your children from the American Academy of Pediatrics.