Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

16380 Father's Physical Punishment and Child Externalizing Behavior: A Longitudinal Examination

Thursday, January 12, 2012: 4:00 PM
Constitution C (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Inna Altschul, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Shawna J. Lee, PhD, Assistant Professor, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI
Elizabeth Gershoff, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Background and Purpose: The family coercion model (Patterson, 1982) proposes that children's externalizing behaviors are developed and maintained through coercive parent-child interactions that include the use of physical discipline. However, the vast majority of research supporting this model has been restricted to mothers. The goal of this presentation is to identify the unique contribution of fathers' use of physical punishment to children's outcomes, over and above mothers' use of physical punishment, as well as the interactive effects of fathers' and mothers' use of physical punishment.

Methods: Data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS), a population-based cohort study of families from 20 large U.S. cities (n = 4,898), were used to examine behaviors of 1339 mothers and 1340 fathers, who were married or cohabiting with the child at all three time points. Cross-lagged path models were used to simultaneously examine the effects of fathers' physical punishment when children were 1, 3, and 5 years of age on child behavior at 3 and 5 years, and the effects of child behavior on fathers' physical punishment, while controlling for mothers' physical punishment at each time point. Models accounted for the correlation of paternal physical punishment and child aggression within each time point to assess the extent to which paternal physical punishment predicts child aggression after accounting for the strong within-time association of these behaviors. All models controlled for children's sex, fathers' race, age, education, and family income.

Results: Path model results show that as hypothesized there are strong within-time associations between both fathers' and mothers' use of physical punishment and child aggression at age three. At age five, fathers' use of physical punishment and child aggression are not significantly associated, while mothers' use of physical punishment is associated with child aggression. After accounting for these within-time associations, model results show that while fathers' use of physical punishment is not predicted by earlier child aggression, child aggression at age 5 is predicted by fathers' use of physical punishment at age 3. Given that these results take into account mothers' use of physical punishment, they suggest that use of physical punishment by fathers is associated with greater aggression among children, above and beyond any influence of mothers' disciplinary behavior.

Conclusions and Implications: This study presents a methodological advance over earlier studies through use of cross-lagged path models to disentangle the multiple factors that may influence the development of child aggression, while accounting for the strong within time correlation of paternal and maternal physical punishment and child aggression. Few prior studies have examined the influence of fathers' use of physical discipline on their young children's development of aggressive behavior over time. The longitudinal, prospective analyses presented here indicate that fathers' disciplinary behaviors influence children's outcomes above and beyond the influence of mothers' disciplinary behaviors. Paternal spanking when children are 3-years old predict increased externalizing behavior problems when children are 5-years of age. Parenting interventions need to more explicitly focus on the role of fathers in disciplining children.