Parents Say Discipline Isn't Working on Kids

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If you think you’re the only parent struggling to rear an unruly child destined to become a careless member of the society, think again. Almost one-third of parents believe their disciplining styles are ineffective.

In a survey of more than 2,000 parents of children between the ages of 2 and 11, researchers for the first time examined four common ways of disciplining  kids —“time-outs,” removal of privileges, yelling and spanking.

More than 45 percent of the parents reported using time-outs as a disciplinary action. Almost 42 percent removed their child’s privileges, followed by 13 percent who resorted to yelling and 9 percent who opted to spank their children, the researchers report in the January issue of the journal Clinical Pediatrics.

Almost 31 percent of participants reported they believed their methods were not effective, and more than 38 percent were using the same discipline methods their own parents used on them as a child.

“There was actually an inverse relationship between self-reports of yelling at children and perceived effectiveness of discipline,” said lead study author Shari Barkin, a physician at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. “But we strongly suspect that both yelling and spanking might be underreported, because we know when parents perceive their methods are not working, as one-third reported, then emotions can quickly escalate,” she said.

Barkin and colleagues think pediatricians should address discipline when parents bring their children to the doctor’s office for visits.

“Discipline is a central element of what parents do every day, and it’s important to develop systems to support parents so that they can apply positive parenting to improve outcomes in children,” Barkin told

“In this study, we altered the manner in which we asked families about discipline," she explained. "This created a shared dialogue rather than a lecture."

Sara Goudarzi
Sara Goudarzi is a Brooklyn writer and poet and covers all that piques her curiosity, from cosmology to climate change to the intersection of art and science. Sara holds an M.A. from New York University, Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, and an M.S. from Rutgers University. She teaches writing at NYU and is at work on a first novel in which literature is garnished with science.