Parental Physical Punishment: Child Outcomes and Attitudes

The former Cabinet Secretary for Children and Communities asked the PPIW to undertake a review of the evidence on children’s attitudes towards physical punishment, and the links between parental physical punishment and child outcomes.

Children’s attitudes towards parental physical punishment vary but are generally negative. Children who have experienced physical punishment and younger children are more likely to support its use. Nonetheless, children view physical punishment as the most severe type of discipline and report that it hurts them physically and emotionally. Some children associate it with angry parents who later regret their actions.

Several hundred studies have explored the links between parental physical punishment and child outcomes often coming to different and sometimes opposite conclusions. Overall, the balance of evidence supports the following conclusions:

  • Severe physical punishment and child abuse are harmful to child development.
  • The way and conditions in which physical punishment is typically used by parents is correlated with negative outcomes for children.
  • Physical punishment is no more effective at changing short term behaviour than other forms of non-physical discipline, for defiant children.
  • No replicated peer-reviewed research has shown that parental physical punishment has positive effects on long-term developmental outcomes.