Indian Pediatr Suppl 2009;46: S83-S85
Child Disciplining Practices in Kerala
MKC Nair, K Rajmohanan, S Remadevi, SM Nair, CS Ghosh and
From Clinical Epidemiology
Research and Training Centre, Medical College, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala,
Correspondence to: Dr MKC
Nair, Professor of Pediatrics and Clinical Epidemiology and Director,
Child Development Centre, Medical College, Thiruvananthapuram 695 011,
This study was done to examine the type and severity
of disciplinary practices adopted by parents in Kerala. 1668 mothers,
aged 18-49, participated in face-to-face interviews as part of a
cross-sectional, population-based survey covering rural, urban and
coastal areas. One child from each family was randomly selected as the
index child. The interview focused primarily on disciplinary practices.
62% of the mothers reported using severe verbal discipline and 50% of
mothers reported using severe physical abuse. Results suggest a high
prevalence of normative and abusive practices in the community with
mothers playing a prime role in disciplining the child.
Keywords: Child disciplining, Child abuse, Physical abuse, Verbal
A complex network of poverty, beliefs and
cultural attitudes is involved in deciding the definition of child abuse
and neglect in India(1). Child physical abuse and neglect are important
public health problems and recent estimates of the prevalence suggest that
they are considerably more common than hitherto realized(2). Suman(3),
noting the paucity of systematic and quantitative data related to child
physical and emotional abuse in India, called for research to document the
prevalence of these phenomena and to identify the interacting factors that
support or discourage child maltreatment within the family environment.
Male and female children experience similar rates of physical abuse(4). In
2004, nearly 152250 children and adolescents were confirmed victims of
physical abuse in the United States and of the 4 types of child
maltreatment (neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse),
physical abuse is second to neglect, constituting approximately 18% of the
total(5). There is a strong correlation between early childhood abuse and
enduring neurobiological changes in specific regions of the brain(6).
These neurobiological changes are often reflected in psychopathology and
lifelong maladaptive behaviors. The objective of the study was to document
the patterns of child disciplining practices prevalent in Kerala and to
describe the type and severity of disciplining practices.
The study was done as a population based cross
sectional survey in Thiruvananthapuram district of Kerala. The samples
were selected separately from rural, urban and coastal areas. Study
subjects were women in the age group of 18-49 with at least one child less
than 18 years of age. One subject per family was randomly included in the
study and the same methodology was followed in the selection of index
child. The sample size was estimated based on the estimation of prevalence
rates in the defined populations with a variability of 0.4 and precision
of 2% and with a 95% confidence interval. The minimum sample size needed
in each stratum was estimated as 700 each from rural and urban areas and
200 from coastal areas. The required sample size was drawn using a
multi-stage sampling technique.
Child disciplinary practices were assessed using a
modified version of the Parent Child Conflict Tactics Scale(7), which has
been previously used in India(8) and other Asian countries(9). For this
investigation, the disciplinary practices were classified as belonging to
one of five different categories: nonviolent discipline (four items);
moderate verbal/ psychological abuse (four items); severe
verbal/psychological abuse (three
items); minor physical abuse (ten items); moderate physical abuse (three
items) and severe physical abuse (eight items). For the analysis, the
values for the categories of disciplinary practices were dichotomized (by
combining the response options – sometimes/many times) to simply indicate
whether that mode of discipline was used or not used within the specified
time period. After obtaining institutional ethical clearance, data were
collected by trained female social workers and quality assurance was done
by the field supervisors. The analysis was done using SPSS for windows.
Among 1668 mothers who participated in this study, 46%
were from rural areas, 41.9% from urban areas and 11.9% from coastal
areas. When asked about mother’s perception about child disciplining
practices, nearly half of the mothers expressed that it was very easy.
Compared with rural and urban mothers, more mothers from coastal areas
considered child disciplining as a very difficult task.
Table I shows the prevalence of child
disciplining practices among parents. It was observed that severe verbal
abuse was uniform across rural, urban and coastal mothers. In contrast
severe verbal abuse was more prevalent among fathers in the coastal area.
Highest prevalence of severe physical abuse was resorted to by rural
mothers. On the whole, more mothers resorted to harsh child disciplinary
practices including verbal and physical abuse as compared to fathers.
Prevalence of Child Disciplining Practices Among Parents
Nature of Practice
Moderate verbal abuse
Severe verbal abuse
Moderate physical abuse
Severe physical abuse
This study is the first attempt to explore the
magnitude of child disciplining practices in the Kerala state. Both
physical and verbal abuse was found to be practiced in a high proportion
of parents. Verbal forms of abuse like calling by names of animals, not
talking or shouting were found to be more practiced than threatening to
leave, threatening with a stick or cane etc. On the whole, it can be
observed that mothers are using more positive methods of disciplining than
fathers, irrespective of their place of residence. Non-violent
disciplining practices were resorted to by 82.5% of parents, suggesting
that there is high community acceptance for non-violent disciplining
practices. More than 80% of rural mothers
used some mode of nonviolent disciplinary practices with their children,
primarily "explaining why a behavior was wrong" or "explaining what to do
as right thing". 37.9% of parents resorted to severe physical abuse and
43.8% parents resorted to severe verbal abuse. The pattern of harsh
disciplinary practices was found to be practiced by both parents, but more
by mothers. This could be due to the prime role played by mothers in
disciplining their children, as she is the one available at home most of
the time. In the context of rapid demographic transition in Kerala, the
intra-familial relationships have changed. The primary responsibility of
child disciplining and child rearing is mainly in the hands of mothers.
The study findings highlighted the need for family intervention programs
for parents emphasizing positive child disciplining practices.
CERTC Thiruvananthapuram, Asokan N, Child Development
Contributors: MKCN was involved in designing the
study and preparation of the manuscript and will act as guarantor, KR, SR
and MLL were involved in data collection, SMN was involved in analysis of
data, and CSG supervised the data collection process.
Competing interests: None stated. The findings and
conclusions of this study are those of the authors and do not necessarily
represent the views of the funding agency.
What This Study Adds?
• Non-violent disciplining practices, severe
physical abuse and severe verbal abuse are used by 82.5%, 37.9% and
43.9% of parents in Kerala, respectively.
• Both positive methods of disciplining and harsh
disciplinary practices, are used more commonly by mothers than
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