• October 2009
  • Vol. 10, No. 8

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Linking Spanking to Mothers' Childhood Experiences

While research generally supports the potential harmfulness of corporal punishment, spanking remains a relatively common practice in the United States, even by parents of infants. A recent study published in Pediatrics examined the link between mothers' childhood experiences of violence and abuse and their subsequent use of infant spanking.

In "Parenting Attitudes and Infant Spanking: The Influence of Childhood Experiences," the authors interviewed 1,265 mostly low-income women during their first prenatal care visit and 3 and 11 months after they gave birth. The new mothers provided information about their attitudes toward corporal punishment and about their own childhoods, including any experiences of violence or other adverse childhood experiences. During the third interview, the mothers also provided information about how often they spanked their infants.

Researchers found that 14 percent of mothers in this group spanked their infants, and 19 percent valued corporal punishment for infants. Mothers who had experienced physical abuse as a child were 1.5 times more likely to spank. More adverse childhood experiences were related to a greater propensity to spank.

The study's authors discuss the need for early counseling about the potential harmful effects of spanking, especially with at-risk mothers who experienced physical abuse as children, in order to stop the intergenerational transmission of corporal punishment.

The article, by Esther K. Chung et al., was published in Pediatrics, Vol. 124(2), August 2009, and is available for purchase online:

http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.1542/peds.2008-3247

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