Methods: We employed a Bayesian multilevel model on 3- to 4-year-old children in 62 low- and middle-income countries from MICS4 and MICS5 (n = 215,885), a unique data set collected by UNICEF during 2012 to 2017. Child socioemotional development was measured by three items as suggested by prior MICS studies. Discipline strategies were reported by caregivers. Normativeness was measured by the prevalence of a particular form of discipline in each country. Analyses were conducted using a Bayesian multilevel model on a large computing cluster.
Results: Physical punishment was consistently associated with lower child socioemotional development. Taking away privileges had negative associations with child socioemotional development, while explaining why behavior was wrong had varied associations across countries. The degree to which a particular form of discipline was normative in a particular country did not have a direct association with children’s development. The normativeness of a particular form of discipline did not moderate the associations of various disciplinary strategies with child development.
Conclusions and Implications: Results suggest that the negative association between physical punishment and child socioemotional development is highly consistent across countries. The association between taking away privileges and child socioemotional development was also consistently negative across countries, perhaps because this form of discipline may have punitive undertones for very young children. Less conclusive are the findings on explaining why a behavior was wrong to children: the associations between explaining and children's socioemotional development were much more varied across countries. Regarding normativeness, results suggest that normativeness of a particular form of discipline may be a much less powerful explanatory mechanism for explaining the effects of parental discipline than previously theorized. In general, findings support the 2006 UN directive calling physical punishment “legalized violence against children” for its negative consequences on child outcomes regardless of its pervasiveness. A key implication of this study is the need to increase parents’ education and access to positive parenting programs and interventions on a global scale.