Which discipline styles and practices used by adults to manage children’s behaviour could contribute to the development of social and emotional wellbeing throughout childhood?


The purpose of this literature based research study is to identify which discipline styles and practices used by adults to manage children’s behaviour, could contribute to the development of social and emotional wellbeing throughout childhood.

This study has been conducted using a systematic literature review research methodology, gathering contemporary, empirical research which focuses on the impact of discipline practices on child emotional outcomes such as aggression, internalising and externalising problems, regulation, executive functioning, morality and conduct problems.

Peer-reviewed articles published between 2010 and 2017 have been sourced from the EBSCOhost education databases. One search of international literature was performed using the key search phrase ‘children’s behaviour discipline social emotional competence’. 

Three key themes have emerged from the reviewed literature; attitudes to discipline, styles of discipline and the social and emotional impact of discipline. Further analyses have revealed a variety of complex socio-cultural influences on the discipline style used by adults, yet social and emotional outcomes of specific discipline styles have been found to be similar for children across contexts.

Results have revealed inductive discipline has been found to contribute to the development of social and emotional wellbeing throughout childhood, as this approach guides the child towards learning key social and emotional skills, thus facilitating the child’s mastery of emotional competence. However, a positive mutual connection between the adult and the child are a key element of the effectiveness of this discipline approach.








1.0 Introduction.. 4


2.0 Methodology. 6


3.0 Literature Review.. 8

3.1 Introduction.. 8

3.2 Attitudes towards discipline. 8

3.3 Styles of discipline. 11

3.4 Social and emotional impact of discipline styles and practices. 14

3.5 Conclusion. 18


4.0 Critical Discussion.. 19

4.1 Introduction.. 19

4.2 Main findings. 19

4.3 Methodology. 21

4.4 Underpinning theory. 22

4.5 Gaps identified. 23


5.0 Conclusion. 24


6.0 References. 26






1.0 Introduction

Children’s social and emotional wellbeing influences cognitive development, learning, physical health, social health, educational outcomes and is the foundation for healthy behaviours and preventing mental health problems in adulthood (NICE, 2013; Public Health England, 2015). However, in 2013 – 2014, 13.5% of children aged 10 to 15 years had high or very high scores in difficulties with emotions, relationships and prosocial behaviour (ONS, 2016). 

Definitions of social and emotional wellbeing will frequently refer to social and emotional skills, such as an awareness of our own emotional state, regulation of our emotional expression, recognising emotions in others, self-worth, motivation, capacity to cope with a degree of psychological distress, the ability to form mutually beneficial relationships, solve conflicts, feel and show empathy for others and a moral sense of right and wrong (Salovey and Mayer, 1990; Goleman, 1996; CASEL, 2017; World Health Organisation, 2014). Social and emotional learning develops in the context of our early relationships with caregivers; the quality of these relationships, including responsiveness, warmth and sensitivity, impacts on a child’s future social and emotional competence (Bowlby, et al., 1965; Erikson, 1977; Belsky, 1984; Schaffer, 2004; Robinson, 2008).

Discipline moments are social and emotional teaching moments. Rogers (1991) argues discipline is not retaliation or punishment, rather that discipline seeks to manage, guide and confront behaviour that disrupts the rights of others, aiming to teach children to be accountable, self-controlled and promote self-esteem. Anderson (1982) agrees discipline seeks to teach and guide children so that they can become caring citizens with high self-esteem and good self-control. Yet Herbert (1989) argues that in reality discipline is most often associated with punishment and constraint in the minds of parents and teachers, and can often be impulsive, frustrated attempts to control a child’s behaviour without the skills, tools and knowledge to do so. Discipline can range from harsh physical punishment or psychological control, to a lack of boundaries and interest in the child’s life, and these differing approaches may have a lifelong impact on a child’s emotional development and wellbeing (Baumrind, 1966; Berlin & Cassidy, 2003; Kaufmann et al., 2000; Manzeske and Stright, 2009).

This literature based research study aims to deepen understanding of how children develop social and emotional wellbeing throughout childhood, and the role that discipline plays in this developmental process. This topic is of interest to me personally as a parent and professionally as a future play therapist. Additionally, this study aims to contribute to the field of Childhood Studies, which engages with the process of reconstructing childhood in society (Kehily, 2009), by reviewing and synthesising existing contemporary evidence on the full range of disciplinary styles and practices, yet with more emphasis on those which enhance the chance of raising an emotionally healthy child and future adult.

The next section explains the chosen methodology, followed by an analysis of the reviewed literature, within which three main key theme have emerged. Firstly, attitudes to discipline, secondly, styles of discipline and thirdly, the social and emotional impact of discipline.  The main findings from the reviewed literature under these three themes will be summarised in the critical discussion section, drawing on wider literature, policy and practice to examine emerging issues from different perspectives. Findings may be of interest to parents, childcare practitioners, and teachers, and may also offer some seedlings of interest to researchers for family social policy.




2.0 Methodology

This study has been conducted using a literature review research approach. As evidence-based practice is becoming more vital in health and social care, literature reviews are becoming more relevant (Aveyard, 2014). Additionally, it is unlikely that undergraduate empirical research into this sensitive topic would gain ethical clearance as children are a vulnerable group (BERA, 2011), however developments in internet technologies have led to an explosion of articles being published alongside improved access to them (Booth, Sutton and Papaioannou, 2016). Therefore, preliminary searches into this topic have revealed a wealth of peer-reviewed empirical research available for systematic review and critical analyses (Cohen, Manion & Morrison, 2011; Aveyard, 2014). This can offer a comprehensive interpretation of the impact of discipline styles and practices on children’s social and emotional learning throughout childhood.

When conducted systematically, reviews of literature can provide a summary of current knowledge by gathering all the available evidence and placing research in the wider context of other research, offering an overall picture of what is known about the topic and illuminating which results are consistent, where weaknesses, conflicts and disagreements lie, and gaps for further research (Booth, Sutton and Papaioannou, 2016). Thus, this research study has endeavoured to use the general principles of a systematic and comprehensive review, using specific, identified methods for searching, evaluating and synthesizing the literature (Aveyard, 2014). As a parent who has disciplined my children, and as a child who was subjected to discipline which had a profound impact on me, I recognise my personal bias on this topic (Aveyard, 2014) and have therefore been cautious of cherry picking articles which support my views, attempting to select literature using a clearly defined search approach.

In order to be as contemporary as possible, peer-reviewed scholarly journals have been gathered from the EBSCOhost education databases, published between 2010 and 2017. One search of international literature was performed using key search words ‘children’s behaviour discipline social emotional competence’. The search was refined to English language, with the major heading ’child discipline’ selected.  This returned 127 articles. 

Every article was evaluated against clear inclusion and exclusion criteria. The inclusion criteria were empirical research which focuses on the impact of adult discipline practices experienced in childhood up to the age of 18 years, on child emotional outcomes (aggression, internalising, externalising, regulation, executive functioning, morality, conduct problems). The exclusion criteria were articles that focus on the impact of discipline on non-emotion related future child outcomes, or impact after age 18, or on economic, environmental or psychological influences on adult’s use of discipline practices, such as alcoholism, stress, poverty, or mental health problems.  Also excluded were studies measuring the effectiveness of social and emotional learning (SEL) programs and discipline policies, or offering guidance for content of SEL programs. 30 articles were selected, however due to non-availability of content the final selection consisted of 23 relevant articles.

The next section will compare, contrast and analyse the selected articles thematically.



3.0 Literature Review

3.1 Introduction

Three themes have emerged from the reviewed literature. The first examines attitudes towards discipline, the second explores styles of discipline and the third focuses on the impact of discipline on a child’s social and emotional wellbeing.   


3.2 Attitudes towards discipline

Gershoff et al. (2010), Wesbrooke, et al. (2013) and Regev, Gueron-Sela & Atzaba-Poria (2012) claim that diverse cultural values and attitudes to child qualities and behaviours influence discipline practices; for example, whether a parent comforts their child when they are upset or scared, and which parenting practices are considered emotionally or physically abusive. Hecker et al. (2016) suggest beliefs about the acceptability of using harsh discipline relate to both a lack of understanding the adverse consequences, and the absence of alternative positive parenting skills. They claim teachers, parents and caregivers who are convinced physical discipline does no harm to children seem to know little about the impact on children’s mental health, cognitive functioning and school performance. Westbrooke et al. (2013) suggest physical discipline is significantly correlated with parenting stress. Kananifar et al. (2015) found discipline of children may also be influenced by religion; in Iran corporal punishment is dictated by Islamic law and culturally normal including flogging and execution of children under certain circumstances, aged under 9 for females and 15 for males, which contradicts the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC, 1989) definition of a child as aged under 18. Although Iran has made some penal code reforms (Child Rights International Network, 2015), in practice children in Iran are still subjected to life imprisonment, corporal punishment such as flogging, stoning, amputation, and the death penalty (Human Rights Watch, 2017).

Gershoff is a recurring author in the reviewed literature, primarily focused on the impact of spanking and harsh discipline on children’s behaviour. Gershoff et al. (2010) investigated whether any significant associations between a range of discipline techniques and children’s behaviours were moderated by the extent to which mothers and children perceive them to be culturally normal. An international research sample was selected, comprised of 292 early adolescent children from six culturally diverse countries; Italy, Thailand, China, India, Kenya and the Philippines. Quantitative data was collected from participants and questions were read aloud by trained natives of the country, to address potential misunderstandings of language and concepts (Cohen, Manion & Morrison, 2011).

Gershoff et al. (2010) underpin their study with Bornstein’s (2012) theory of cultural approaches to parenting, which posits our view of children and the way we treat them is impacted by deep rooted, widely acknowledged, socially transmitted cultural norms, which may override a parent’s natural instincts. Gershoff et al. (2010) claim parents within individualised Western countries value children’s assertiveness and independence, whereas in countries with more collectivist orientations such as China, self-inhibition and subjugation of an individual’s desires are emphasized. However, with an average of 47 participants per country, this could be considered a small sample on which to base reliable quantitative generalisations regarding a population’s cultural norms (Cohen, Manion & Morrison, 2011). Equally, it could be argued that in our age of globalisation, social media and more fluid migration patterns, cultural life cannot be located in a specific place within set boundaries (Longhurst et al, 2010; Giddens and Sutton, 2013). Diverse cultural identities are found within local streets, cities, and countries, impacted by the complexities of religion, beliefs and leadership in multicultural societies, alongside intersecting inequalities such as class gender, religion and ethnicity (Longhurst et al, 2010; Giddens and Sutton, 2013). Gershoff et al. (2010) found little evidence that the social and emotional impact of discipline techniques on children’s behaviours vary by perceived cultural normality.

Helwig et al. (2014) conducted a study with similar aims, collecting quantitative data from 228 children drawn equally from three research sites in Canada, urban China and rural China. An average of 76 participants per site provides another relatively small sample on which to base cultural generalisations (Cohen, Manion & Morrison, 2011). However, Helwig et al. (2014) draw on extensive ethnographic research which finds shaming is common in China (Fung, 1999; Fung and Chen, 2001) and found discipline practices rated as more common by Chinese children were perceived slightly less negatively than by Canadian children, yet still viewed as psychologically harmful and less effective by Chinese children, which strengthens the findings of Gershoff et al. (2010). Helwig et al. (2014) highlight the importance of studying children’s interpretations of parental discipline and suggest future research could explore discrepancies between adult and child views of discipline.

In contrast, Rae-Espinoza (2010) has used a qualitative, ethnographic and naturalistic research paradigm in her study, conducted over the course of three years in Ecuador, using interviews and observations in the homes of 22 families.  There is no recommended number of participants for a qualitative study, however by nature smaller samples may yield more in depth results (Cohen, Manion & Morrison, 2011). Additionally, Rae-Espinoza (2010) interviewed 50 informants in public settings to gather perceptions of appropriate parental behaviours in Ecuador, which she claims are driven by fears that children may grow up to be anti-social or deviant. This research stands out as the only study to promote a unique approach to discipline; the practice of ‘consent by silence’ (Rae-Espinoza, 2010). In other words, extensively agreeing to children’s requests, even when strongly believing it is not in the child’s best interests. Rae-Espinoza (2010) claims this is perceived as good mothering in Ecuador, building frequent positive interactions, avoiding conflict and unnecessary rule setting. Rae-Espinoza (2010) found in Ecuador, making the child feel bad or eliciting rage is considered destructive for long-term development and contributing well to society. Underpinned by Baumrind’s theory of parenting styles (1967), Rae-Espinoza (2010) argues this ‘inactive’ discipline approach, categorized as permissiveness and considered a negative parenting style in Western countries according to Baumrind (1967), offers children in Ecuador primary agency in parent-child interactions.  


3.2.1 Summary

There are wide variations in adult attitudes to child qualities and behaviours, and the discipline styles and practices they use. Adult attitudes are impacted by the needs of the community, the complexities of multicultural societies, intersecting social categories, religion, children’s rights, parental circumstances such as stress, and adult skill and knowledge of how to manage children’s behaviour effectively (Hecker et al., 2016; Westbrooke et al., 2013; Kananifar et al., 2015; Gershoff et al., 2010; Regev, Gueron-Sela & Atzaba-Poria, 2012; Rae-Espinoza, 2010; Longhurst et al, 2010; Giddens and Sutton, 2013).

However, children’s perceived commonality of practices only moderates negative perceptions and damaging effects of ineffective discipline slightly (Gershoff et al., 2010; Helwig et al., 2014).


3.3 Styles of discipline

Three styles of discipline have emerged from the reviewed literature, power assertive, inductive, and inconsistent discipline.

Power assertive discipline has received the most attention and is defined within the reviewed literature as use of any physical or psychological force intended to cause physical or emotional pain (Hecker et al., 2016). Physical force includes smacking, spanking, grabbing, shaking, restraining, high levels of yelling, humiliation, threatening, name calling, rejection, anger, hostility and aggression (Gershoff and Grogan-Kaylor, 2016; Lee and Gershoff, 2015; Hecker et al., 2016; Kananifar et al., 2015; Wang and Kenny, 2014; Westbrook et al., 2013; Lysenko, Barker & Jaffee, 2013; Gershoff et al., 2010; Lansford et al., 2011). Psychological force includes shaming, withdrawing love, ‘time-out’, ignoring, expressing disappointment, removal of privileges and imposing penalty tasks such as taking away something fun, banning TV, or grounding (Bombi et al., 2015; Bosmans et al. 2011). Whereas inductive discipline is defined as providing reasons for rules and verbal explanations for requiring the child to change their behaviour (Altschul, Lee & Gershoff, 2016; Guevara et al., 2015) and includes limit setting, repeating directions, reasoning, explaining consequences of behaviour on others, discussing alternatives, ignoring misbehaviour, diversions, rewards, warmth, nurturing, responsiveness, mutual trust and caring (Bosmans et al., 2011; Choe, Olson & Sameroff, 2013; Patrick and Gibbs, 2016).  Inconsistent discipline is defined as a mixture of harsh and permissive discipline; a lack of consistency resulting in no consequences on some occasions and overly harsh consequences at other times, including not following through with rules, expectations and threats of punishment, punishing a child when a parent would usually reason with them, and warmth and controlling behaviours occurring at the same time, such as emotional support alongside smacking (Halgunseth et al., 2013; Parent et al., 2011; Lee et al., 2013; Pederson and Fite, 2014).

The most overwhelming evidence that spanking is harmful has emerged from a meta-analysis addressing the competing conclusions of 75 previous studies, representing 160,927 children aged under 2 to 15 years (Gershoff and Grogan-Kaylor, 2016). Meta-analyses aggregates and combines the results of previous quantitative research, focusing on the more exact measure of effect size rather than statistical significance, however, meta-analyses may place results from poorly designed studies alongside higher quality  studies, while published research is favoured over unpublished research (Cohen, Manion & Morrison, 2011). Gershoff and Grogan-Kaylor (2016) found no evidence that spanking improves child behaviour, while all the evidence points to higher risk for detrimental outcomes, even when studies relying on harsh and potentially abusive methods are removed. These findings are supported by Hecker et al. (2016), Westbrooke et al. (2013), Altschul, Lee & Gershoff (2016), Choe, Olson & Sameroff (2013), Lee et al. (2013), and Lansford et al. (2011). Additionally, Lysenko, Barker & Jaffee (2013) found evidence that harsh discipline is experienced by boys more than girls in their study of 13,830 sets of identical and non-identical twins, offering a rare experiment of nature (Schaffer, 2004) and found sex differences in discipline account for 10 to 20 percent of conduct problems aged seven years, including biting, kicking, hitting, fighting, bullying, lying and cheating.  

Similarly, Bosmans et al. (2011) found when parents use more power assertive discipline, including psychological control, adolescents report more internalising problems and being less securely attached, although they do suggest further research is needed before advising too strongly against using psychological control, to investigate whether these tactics in combination with parental warmth have more positive outcomes. Gershoff et al. (2010) support Bosmans et al. (2011) findings, as they found that ‘time-out’, expressing disappointment and shaming were more associated with child anxiety. Additionally, Bombi et al. (2015) both support and extend upon Bosmans et al. (2011) findings in their study, which found that maternal warmth does not moderate psychological control. Bombi et al. (2015) also found two years later, children who were submitted to this kind of discipline felt strongly rejected by their mothers.

Five of the reviewed studies within this theme are based on the transactional model of development (Sameroff, 2009) which suggests harsh punishment from caregivers has been found to lead to more behaviour problems, which elicits more harsh discipline, thus there is a reciprocal relationship (Lee and Gershoff, 2015; Wang and Kenny, 2014; Lansford et al., 2011; Choe, Olson & Sameroff, 2013; Lyensko et al., 2013). 

In contrast, Guevera et al. (2015) found that inductive discipline establishes an optimum level of learning and is significantly associated with developing moral emotions such as empathy and sympathy, which are necessary for prosocial behaviour. In their study 239 mothers, fathers and adolescents aged 12 to 18 years were interviewed separately to increase reliability. Guevara et al. (2015) have underpinned their study using evidence of family predictors of anti-social behaviour in 508 adolescents aged 12 to 18 years (Deković, Janssens & As, 2003), which found parent-child interactions are significant predictors of antisocial behaviour, independent of other influencing factors such as socioeconomic status, dispositional characteristics of parents, and family characteristics.

Guevara et al. (2015) suggest the command of prosocial behaviour could prevent aggressive behaviour in adolescence, which is considered a social problem in the majority of countries and has been linked to antisocial behaviour in adulthood. Patrick and Gibbs (2016) found children raised using inductive discipline practices are more likely to feel accepted and have a close parent-child attachment relationship, which contributes to the formation of moral identity. They also point out that inductive discipline requires mutual trust and caring, therefore this discipline style is less effective when both parent and child feel the relationship is difficult. Choe, Olson & Sameroff (2013) agree inductive discipline teaches the child to inhibit disruptive behaviour and see things from other people’s viewpoint, however they argue this style relies heavily on verbal communication. This limitation will be discussed further in the critical discussion.

Now looking at the inconsistent discipline style, Halgunseth et al. (2013) and Parent et al. (2011) found inconsistent discipline increases disruptive and anti-social behaviour. Halgunseth et al. (2013) conducted a randomized-controlled study over 6 years with adolescents, and found inconsistent discipline influences delinquent based attitudes, which predicts an increase in anti-social behaviour and decrease in prosocial behaviour in adolescence. Conversely, Parent et al. (2011) conducted a quantitative, cross-sectional study with preschool age children, yet agreed with Halgunseth et al. (2013) findings that high permissive discipline results in more disruptive behaviour. However, their findings applied only to boys, whereas Halgunseth et al. (2013) found no gender differences. Parent et al. (2011) suggest permissive discipline may be more detrimental for boys, due to them having less well-developed self-regulation processes than similarly aged girls. This idea is supported by wider research, which has found girls display significantly more developed self-regulation levels than boys of a similar age during the preschool years, middle childhood and adolescence (Broekhuizen, Dubas & Leseman, 2015).


3.3.1 Summary

The evidence to have emerged under this theme points to power assertive discipline being harmful to social and emotional wellbeing, particularly physical discipline (Gershoff and Grogan-Kaylor, 2016; Hecker et al., 2016; Westbrooke et al., 2013; Lee et al., 2013) which can lead to a reciprocal relationship (Lee and Gershoff, 2015; Wang and Kenny, 2014; Lansford et al., 2011).  Boys may experience harsher discipline than girls and this may account for later sex differences in conduct problems (Lysenko, Barker & Jaffee, 2013).  Inconsistent discipline can increase disruptive behaviour, though there are mixed findings for whether the impact is the same for both genders (Halgunseth et al., 2013; Parent et al., 2011). In contrast, inductive discipline is significantly associated with child social and emotional wellbeing, as this style teaches and guides the child towards prosocial behaviour and strengthens the parent-child relationship (Bosmans et al., 2011; Choe, Olson & Sameroff, 2013; Guevara et al., 2015; Altschul, Lee & Gershoff, 2016). However, inductive discipline is less effective without a strong adult-child relationship (Patrick and Gibbs, 2016). 

The next theme will look more closely at the social and emotional impact of discipline styles and practices.


3.4 Social and emotional impact of discipline styles and practices

Three social and emotional child outcomes have emerged from the literature; internalizing problems, externalizing problems and emotional competence.

Internalizing problems identified in the reviewed literature include low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, perceived maternal rejection and poor self-control skills known as executive functioning (Bombi et al., 2015; Bosmans et al., 2011; Gershoff and Grogan-Kaylor, 2016; Kananifar et al., 2015; Wang and Kenny, 2014; Gershoff et al., 2010; Hecker et al., 2016; Meuwissen and Carlson, 2015; Helwig et al., 2014). Whereas identified externalising problems include disruptive behaviours, aggression, antisocial behaviour, oppositional defiant disorder, and conduct problems including biting, hitting and kicking (Parent et al., 2011; Bombi et al., 2015; Halgunseth et al., 2013; Lee et al., 2013; Pederson and Fite, 2014; Choe, Olson & Sameroff, 2013; Lee and Gershoff, 2015; Westbrook et al., 2013; Lysenko, Barker & Jaffee, 2013; Lansford et al., 2011; Regev, Gueron-Sela & Atzaba-Poria, 2012).

Emotionally competent behaviours identified in the literature include prosocial behaviour, defined as voluntary conduct that benefits other people (Guevara et al., 2015), moral emotions empathy and sympathy, moral identity, social competence and executive functioning skills (Halgunseth et al., 2013; Rae-Espinoza, 2010; Patrick and Gibbs, 2016; Altschul, Lee & Gershoff, 2016; Meuwissen and Carlson, 2015; Regev, Gueron-Sela & Atzaba-Poria, 2012).

Bosmans et al. (2011) link power assertive discipline to higher levels of internalizing problems, suggesting this discipline style contributes to an insecure attachment-related internal working model, which affects the child’s expectations of the availability of their attachment figure and makes them less likely to turn to them for support.  Bosmans et al. (2011) investigated 514 families, collecting data from mothers, fathers, and adolescents to strengthen the validity of the findings (Cohen, Manion & Morrison, 2011) as parents may under-report power assertive discipline while adolescents may over-report internalizing problems. They have included fathers and mothers equally, and comparable effects were found for each. However, the authors acknowledge findings should be interpreted with caution and investigated further using a longitudinal design. This study is underpinned by the transactional model of development (Sameroff, 1995), to suggest harsh parenting and depressive symptoms can be initiated and reversed on both sides.

Bosmans et al. (2011) claim it may be possible to strengthen attachment security through repeated exposure to positive attachment information, to lessen the effects of negative experiences with attachment figures on internalizing problems, which suggests it is possible to change discipline style for positive effects. Whilst recognising the dynamic nature of the parent-child relationship, this study places heavy emphasis on the nurturing influence of parental behaviours. However, it is important to maintain a balanced view of the impact of genetic factors alongside relationships, in order to avoid unfounded blame and feelings of guilt in caregivers; for example, mothers of children with autism at one time were accused of being ‘refrigerators’ (Siegel, 2015) suggesting they caused their children’s autism due to a lack of warmth. Yet we have since found autism, along with other disorders such as Asperger’s syndrome, ADHD and conduct disorder, are caused by faults in genetic programming which can affect social-emotional understanding (Blakemore and Frith, 2005).

In contrast, Pederson and Fite (2014) examined externalising problems in their study which evaluated parenting behaviours as moderators of the link between aggression and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). ODD is characterised by various defiant, disobedient and hostile behaviours towards authority figures, including being frequently and easily angered. The authors recognise two distinct types of aggression; proactive aggression is the deliberate use of aggressive acts to achieve a desired goal, whereas reactive aggression is characterised by impulsive responses to perceived threat. Pederson and Fite (2014) explicitly state that parenting plays a significant role in the development of ODD symptoms and that interventions targeting parenting have been shown to be effective when treating disruptive behaviour disorders.  However, like Bosmans et al. (2011), they do not acknowledge any genetic influences impacting upon externalizing problems, despite wider evidence revealing that both genetic and environmental influences underlie negative emotionality and externalizing symptoms (Singh and Waldman, 2010). Pederson and Fite (2014) recruited participants by flyering the local community and measures of the child’s ODD symptoms were reported by caregivers. It is unclear how the authors linked results to the specific clinical diagnosis of ODD, as to distinguish symptoms of ODD from normal childhood or adolescent rebellion, professionals would usually depend on a detailed history of persistent antisocial behaviours in a variety of situations (Child Mind Institute, 2017). However, Choe, Olson & Sameroff (2013) found inductive discipline reduces child behaviour problems in the borderline clinical, and clinical ranges, which supports the findings of Pederson and Fite (2014).

In contrast, Patrick & Gibbs (2016) examined emotional competence, and found children are more likely to feel accepted if mothers used inductive discipline (as opposed to power assertive, or love withdrawal) and those who felt accepted reported higher moral identity, which they define as how important moral qualities are to an individual’s concept of themselves. They also suggest maternal acceptance can influence feelings of comfort, security, increased self-esteem, reduced anxiety, and reduced behaviour difficulties in children, while maternal rejection can influence anxiety, aggressiveness, and other behavioural problems. Patrick and Gibbs (2016) set out to examine adolescents’ evaluations and emotional reactions to discipline, and whether they felt accepted, to see how it related to moral emotion, which it could be argued is a subjective interpretation of an individual’s social world (Cohen, Manion and Morrisson, 2011). Perhaps the findings could have been strengthened by using a mixed-method research approach to include qualitative data from participants.

Similarly, Meuwissen and Carlson (2015) examined emotional competence, however with a focus on executive functioning (EF), underpinned by self-determination theory (Deci and Ryan, 1980) which is a theory of motivation concerned with supporting our natural or intrinsic tendencies to behave in natural and healthy ways. Meuwissen and Carlson (2015) are the only authors within the reviewed literature to focus solely on fathers, which addresses an important gap in the literature. This study found controlling father parenting was detrimental to the development of EF as it removed the child’s opportunity to act and monitor their own behaviour, whereas autonomy support facilitates a child’s sense of mastery, reflective thinking, and self-control (Meuwissen and Carlson, 2015).


3.4.1 Summary

The evidence suggests the emotional impact of power assertive discipline can include internalizing and externalizing problems, damage to the parent-child relationship (Bosmans et al., 2011; Pederson and Fite, 2014; Choe, Olson & Sameroff, 2013) and hindering the child’s development of important self-control skills (Meuwissen and Carlson, 2015). On the other hand, the emotional impact of inductive discipline can include the development of emotional competence, including positive parent-child relationships, a positive sense of self, and support the development of intrinsic motivation (Patrick and Gibbs, 2016; Meuwissen and Carlson, 2015). Additionally, inductive discipline has been shown to be effective in reducing internalisation problems and treating disruptive behaviour disorders in the clinical ranges (Pederson and Fite, 2014), though it is important to recognise genetic factors can cause problem behaviours (Singh and Waldman, 2010; Choe, Olson & Sameroff, 2013).


3.5 Conclusion

The reviewed literature has revealed an adult’s use of discipline is impacted by adult views, needs, circumstances, skills and knowledge, which may conflict at times (Hecker et al., 2016; Westbrooke et al., 2013; Kananifar et al., 2015; Regev, Gueron-Sela & Atzaba-Poria, 2012; Rae-Espinoza, 2010; Longhurst et al, 2010; Giddens and Sutton, 2013). However, the social and emotional impact of discipline styles and practices on children may be similar across diverse contexts (Helwig et al., 2014).

Power assertive discipline can have a damaging effect on the child and miss the opportunity to teach vital social and emotional skills (Gershoff and Grogan-Kaylor, 2016; Hecker et al., 2016; Lee et al., 2013; Lysenko, Barker & Jaffee, 2013; and Lansford et al., 2011).

Inductive discipline teaches the child emotional competence by promoting important social and emotional skills such as self-regulation, intrinsic motivation, self-worth and a positive parent-child relationship (Patrick and Gibbs, 2016; Meuwissen and Carlson, 2015; Pederson and Fite, 2014). Yet the effectiveness of this discipline style is reliant on a strong parent-child attachment relationship (Bosmans et al., 2011; Choe, Olson & Sameroff, 2013; Guevara et al., 2015; Patrick and Gibbs, 2016; Altschul, Lee & Gershoff, 2016). The inductive discipline style, based on the foundation of a strong parent-child relationship, can lead to the development of social and emotional wellbeing in children throughout childhood and last into adulthood.





4.0 Critical Discussion

4.1 Introduction

This section will critically analyse key issues that have emerged from the reviewed literature, to ascertain which discipline style could contribute to the development of social and emotional wellbeing throughout childhood. These key points have been separated into four areas; findings, methodology, underpinning theory and identified gaps for further research.


4.2 Main findings

The reviewed literature has revealed that the inductive discipline style teaches important social and emotional skills which help to develop emotional competence (Bosmans et al., 2011; Choe, Olson & Sameroff, 2013; Guevara et al., 2015; Patrick and Gibbs, 2016; Altschul, Lee & Gershoff, 2016). These skills, also known as emotional intelligence (Salovey and Mayer, 1990) have been found to be developed within the context of three dimensions of parenting: responsiveness, positive demandingness and emotion-related coaching (Alegre, 2011) which link well with the inductive discipline practices of providing reasons and explanations to the child.

However, Choe, Olson & Sameroff (2013) argue inductive discipline relies heavily on verbal communication, which could suggest it is inappropriate for preverbal children. For example, some argue smacking is necessary with preverbal children who cannot understand reasoning, while others contend that it teaches children to manage their strong emotions with violence (YouGov, 2017; Debate.org, 2017). Yet preverbal children communicate using many different non-verbal channels including body language, facial expressions and cries (Clark and Moss, 2011). Additionally, preverbal experiences are recorded by sensory memory (sounds, tastes, smells, bodily and limb sensations), leaving a strong mark on us, despite being lost to conscious recall (Robinson, 2008). For example, attunement between an infant and parent can be defined as the momentary nonverbal connection of two minds (Siegel, 2015) and allows the infant to regulate itself in the moment while developing the ability to do so in the future, which is a key emotional skill (Siegel, 2015; Goleman, 1996). Attuned communication is not limited to preverbal infants; it forms the basis of strong attachment relationships throughout childhood and is also a technique used in clinical therapeutic adult relationships (Siegel, 2015). Based on the evidence presented, it could be argued that inductive discipline, with its aim of teaching the child self-control (Rogers, 1991), is a form of attuned communication which begins at birth and is intrinsically linked with the quality of the parent-child attachment relationship.

The formation of a securely attached, attuned relationship depends on a parent’s sensitivity to their child’s signals (Siegel, 2015). The reviewed literature has revealed maternal sensitivity predicts secure attachment relationships, rather than maternal warmth (Altschul, Lee & Gershoff, 2016; Lee et al., 2013; Bombi et al., 2015; Pederson and Fite, 2014; Bosmans et al., 2011; Sameroff, 2009). Yet how sensitive adults are to children’s needs and the style of discipline they employ can be strongly influenced by the socio-cultural world in which they reside and societal attitudes towards children (Siegel, 2015; Gershoff et al., 2010; Westbrook et al., 2013; Hecker et al., 2016; Regev, Gueron-Sela & Atzaba-Poria, 2012; Rae-Espinoza, 2010).

Whilst the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Unicef, 1989) attempts to set in place global human rights standards for children, countries vary widely in levels of implementation of the convention into state policy (Kananifar et al., 2015; Child Rights International Network, 2015; Human Rights Watch, 2017) and at times parent and children’s rights and needs may conflict (Kananifer et al., 2015) leading to tensions in child and family policy (JRF, 2005). Additionally, focusing purely on the rights perspective, which positions the child as an autonomous individual, ignores other important social factors such as poverty, living conditions and other diverse and powerful influences on the parent-child relationship (Westbrooke et al., 2013; Hecker et al., 2016; Kananifar et al., 2015; Reynaert, Bouverne-de-Bie and Vandevelde, 2009).

Based on the research discussed in this literature review, it is evident that power assertive discipline, and particularly physical and inconsistent discipline, can have a negative impact on the development of social and emotional wellbeing. It is perhaps surprising therefore that physical punishment by parents is still legal in the UK as long as it does not leave a mark (Children Act, 2004), as internalizing behaviours and damage to the parent-child relationship (Bosmans et al., 2011; Gershoff et al., 2010) are emotional marks which cannot be seen. Interestingly, early years’ practitioners can manage large groups of young children, many of them preverbal, without using physical force, as it is illegal in educational institutions (UK Gov, 2013).

This highlights a vast gap, supported within the reviewed literature (Hecker et al., 2016; Westbrooke et al., 2013; Kananifar et al., 2015), between evidence based practice at a professional level, and public awareness of harmful discipline practices and positive alternatives at a societal level.


4.3 Methodology

Twenty-one of the twenty-three reviewed articles use a quantitative research methodology, which regards social reality as objective fact (Walliman, 2006). Of these, ten articles are longitudinal (Choe, Olson & Sameroff, 2013; Bombi et al., 2015; Lee et al., 2013; Lee and Gershoff, 2015; Wang and Kenny, 2014; Lysenko, Barker & Jaffee, 2013; Lansford et al., 2011; Halgunseth et al., 2013; Altschul, Lee & Gershoff, 2016; Westbrook et al., 2013) and ten articles are cross-sectional (Pederson and Fite, 2014; Bosmans et al., 2011; Patrick and Gibbs, 2016; Kananifar et al., 2015; Guevara et al., 2015; Gershoff et al., 2010; Hecker et al., 2016; Helwig et al., 2014; Regev, Gueron-Sela & Atzaba-Poria, 2012; Parent et al., 2011).

This equal balance could be considered a strength of the reviewed literature, as the limitations of a cross sectional study are the strengths of a longitudinal study (Cohen, Manion and Morrison, 2011). For example, cross-sectional studies cannot track changes or compare results over time, are ineffective for causal research and less effective for identifying individual variations in human growth, whereas longitudinal studies can identify causal relationships and track patterns of human growth and development over time, with greater accuracy (Cohen, Manion and Morrison, 2011).

Conversely, longitudinal studies are weak in areas cross-sectional studies can be strong, for example longitudinal studies can be expensive and time consuming, can lose participants at each wave of the study which may distort the sample population, and participants may become sensitised to the test (Cohen, Manion and Morrison, 2011), whereas cross-sectional studies are less expensive, faster to conduct and useful for charting large samples and population wide figures (Cohen, Manion and Morrison, 2011).

However, Onwuegbuzie & Leech (2005) argue quantitative and qualitative research paradigms can be combined for greater advancement of the social and behavioural sciences and there are more similarities than differences between the two perspectives, therefore a mixed-methods approach such as that employed by Bombi et al. (2015) could incorporate the strengths of both methodologies (Onwuegbuzie & Leech, 2005). Mixed methods can address complex questions by recognising dynamic interconnections that traditional research methods have not adequately addressed, whilst not all research projects require mixed methodologies (Hesse-Biber, 2010) this research study could have benefited from qualitative data offering deeper insight into children’s perspectives.


4.4 Underpinning theory

A key theory that has reoccurred throughout the literature is Sameroff’s (2009) transactional model of development (Lee and Gershoff, 2015; Choe, Olson & Sameroff, 2013; Wang and Kenny, 2014; Lansford et al., 2011), which emerges under the styles of discipline theme. This theory progresses the traditional interactionist perspective (Harris and Butterworth, 2002), as it recognises the parent and child affect each other in a mutual, dynamic, interplay between nature and nurture, rather than as two static objects. This theory is rooted in developmental psychology, encompassing cognitive, behavioural and biologically based theoretical frameworks (Craig and Dunn, 2006) and is therefore based on a positivist epistemological approach (Walliman, 2006) grounded in empirical data that has been verified as consistent, logical and replicable (Cohen, Manion and Morrison, 2011). However, this approach is searching for universal laws and does not account for individual subjective interpretation, making it less successful in complex studies of human behaviour (Cohen, Manion and Morrison, 2011).

A potential alternative theory is Interpersonal Neurobiology (IPNB) (Siegel, 2015) which synthesises information from a range of scientific disciplines including neuroscience, anthropology and psychiatry, in an attempt to deepen understanding of subjective everyday life, termed ‘mind’, by drawing on the objective views of science. Whilst there are similarities with transactional theory (Sameroff, 2009) in that both models recognise the complex social and genetic influences on a child’s development, IPNB goes one step further to recognise the reality of ‘mind’ as being at the core of people’s lives (Siegel, 2015).  Subjective experience cannot be quantitatively or objectively measured. However, we are able to measure the impact of positive experience on developmental outcomes and IPNB recognises this (Siegel, 2015). IPNB would be associated with the social and emotional impact theme within the literature review, concerned with the development of healthy and resilient minds. Megna (2002) claims the importance of the first edition of IPNB theory cannot be overstated, similarly Gaussen (2000) claims the first edition is a milestone work which will drive our understanding of human development forwards, though does point out the clinical examples are drawn from adult psychotherapy rather than work with children. Siegel (2015) claims the second edition of IPNB theory has been thoroughly and collectively examined by a team of 15 research interns, against thousands of articles containing fresh evidence in an effort to disprove the first edition, and the second edition has been updated with subsequent research advances.


4.5 Gaps identified

The reviewed literature has identified gaps between professional practice and evidence based parenting (Hecker et al., 2016; Westbrooke et al., 2013; Kananifar et al., 2015), suggesting children could benefit from parents having more skills, tools and knowledge of inductive discipline. A mixed-methods research methodology (Onwuegbuzie & Leech, 2005), underpinned by IPNB (Siegel, 2015) may offer a fuller understanding of the research problem (Hesse-Biber, 2010) with an interdisciplinary focus on subjective experience. Qualitative data could explore firstly children’s subjective experiences of discipline, potentially using a framework such as the Mosaic Approach (Clark and Moss, 2011), secondly, why take up of government funded parenting classes has been low (UK Gov, 2016; The Centre for Social Justice, 2016) and thirdly, how technology could make evidence-based information more accessible for parents who are increasingly turning to social media for support (Facebook, 2017, Twitter, 2017). Quantitative data could offer more generalizable answers regarding the effectiveness of current evidence-based parenting support distributed through local authorities (4 Children, 2015; Care For The Family, 2014).


5.0 Conclusion

This literature based research study set out to review contemporary evidence and deepen understanding of how discipline styles and practices used by adults, impact children’s development of social and emotional wellbeing throughout childhood.

The reviewed literature has revealed social and emotional wellbeing is linked with learning key social and emotional skills, which take place from within the wider context of our early close relationships, beginning with attuned, nonverbal communication from birth (Bowlby et al., 1965; Robinson, 2008; Siegel, 2015). A child who learns about themselves and others from within a sensitive, attuned attachment relationship will be developing key social and emotional skills, such as an awareness of their own emotional state, the ability to regulate themselves if they are distressed or excited, sensitivity to how others are feeling, moral identity, conflict resolution, intrinsic motivation, self-worth, and the ability to form quality, close relationships (Salovey and Mayer, 1990; Goleman, 1996). These skills develop as the child matures and can contribute to an emotionally healthy adulthood.

Discipline moments are opportunities to teach and guide children (Rogers, 1991, Anderson, 1982) and the reviewed literature has revealed this opportunity can be missed if adults react to children’s behaviour using a power assertive discipline style, as this approach can hinder the child’s ability to master important social and emotional skills, damage the parent-child relationship, and lead to additional behaviour problems (Gershoff and Grogan-Kaylor, 2016; Hecker et al., 2016; Westbrooke et al., 2013; Lee et al., 2013; Lysenko, Barker & Jaffee, 2013; Lansford et al., 2011).

The reviewed literature has revealed the inductive discipline style contributes to the development of social and emotional wellbeing throughout childhood as this approach guides the child towards learning key social and emotional skills (Bosmans et al., 2011; Guevara et al., 2015; Patrick and Gibbs, 2016; Altschul, Lee & Gershoff, 2016) thus facilitating the child’s mastery of emotional competence whilst also strengthening the parent-child relationship. This discipline style can also be beneficial for children who suffer with social, emotional and behaviour problems, or genetic conditions which affect social and emotional learning (Pederson and Fite, 2014; Choe, Olson & Sameroff, 2013), yet it must be noted, inductive discipline is not as effective without a mutually trusting and caring adult-child relationship (Patrick and Gibbs, 2016), therefore a shared connection between the adult and the child are key.

The reviewed literature has revealed a gap in adult awareness of the impact of discipline styles on the child. A sizable proportion of adults still believe smacking is necessary to prevent antisocial behaviour or with preverbal children (Debate.org, 2017), when in fact the reviewed literature has offered convincing evidence that the opposite is true. Therefore, it seems a lack of evidence-based knowledge of positive practices and skills (Hecker et al., 2016; Westbrooke et al., 2013; Kananifar et al., 2015) could lead to adults using harmful discipline practices under the mistaken belief they are doing what is best for their child.

Government attempts to promote universal parenting classes have been unsuccessful (UK Gov, 2016; The centre for social justice, 2016) yet increasingly parents are turning to the digital world for tools, skills, knowledge and support (Facebook, 2017; Twitter, 2017).

As a result, although this literature based research study has been conducted within tight time, space, and resource constraints, a gap for potential future research, underpinned by IPNB theory and utilising a mixed-methods approach and participatory research tools, could deepen understanding of children’s subjective interpretations of the impact of discipline styles on their close relationships, and also reveal the best methods for providing parents with trusted, evidence-based, non-stigmatised support information.



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What is meant by risk aversion and how does it affect the quality of children’s lives in contemporary Western societies?

Children in contemporary western society have lost three years freedom of movement in the last nineteen years (Gill, 2007).  Risk aversion influences every aspect of our children’s lives whether at school, at clubs and activities, using technology and even playing socially in the local park.  As this topic is so far reaching this essay concentrates on discussing two contemporary areas of key risk concern in relation to primary school children aged between 5 and 11 years old. The two areas discussed are strangers and children’s playgrounds. This essay defines what is meant by risk aversion, investigates the origins of concerns and looks at the effects of trying to avoid risk on the lives of children in contemporary Western society.

Risk is defined as ‘a situation involving exposure to danger’. Aversion is defined as ‘a strong dislike or disinclination’ (Oxford Dictionaries, 2014).  Humans are compelled to try and avoid exposure to danger, injury and loss of people and things that are precious to them.

One influential European work of the late twentieth century is Ulrich Beck’s Risk Society. Beck views simple modernization as a set of risks and hazards which are far greater than those experienced before, because they can now affect future generations and cross national boundaries. Beck believes risk is a methodical system of managing dangers and uncertainties (Beck, 1992).

Much of our knowledge about risk comes from mainstream news media such as TV, radio and the internet. The media are in a very influential position, yet their core objective is to increase sales through appealing to the widest possible audience. Detail is lost, stories are amplified and sound judgement cannot be based on the end result (Boyne, 2003).

In response to modern insecurities we increasingly attempt to measure and regulate risk, yet our understandings, experiences and responses to risk are socially constructed. Activities considered risky are affected by culture, history and experience (Tulloch and Lupton, 2003). For example risks faced by children in poor and developing countries, such as poverty, starvation and disease, are much more serious than risks faced by children in wealthy industrialized countries (Gill, 2007).

Parents today are constantly concerned for their children. Politically, children are seen to be the future of our nation and economy, in need of education to play their part. Children are no longer required to work to help the family survive and are therefore not seen as capable as children from the past.  We underestimate them, viewing them as potential victims in need of protection, which may not always be in their best interests (Cunningham, 2006).

The problem with risk aversion is that it is largely fuelled by fear, rather than fact. Adults project their anxieties onto children, fears that reflect local, cultural and media attitudes as well as their own ability to make rational decisions and other unconscious emotions and ideas. Changes in adult attitudes can be expressed through large scale policy, law, procedure and in day to day interactions with children (Jones, 2003).  Lots of parties are involved in public policy debates about children and risk, including providers, regulators, safety agencies, policymakers, insurers, solicitors, the media, parents and children themselves (Gill, 2007).

On the subject of strangers for example, the media sends out strong messages that dangerous predatory strangers are a significant increasing threat to children. However in 2007 statistics showed that 2 primary school age children a year are killed by strangers and figures have been around this level for decades. Far more children are killed by adults who know them and in fact out of every 15 children under the age of 16 killed per year, only one will have been killed by a stranger. Children were no more likely to be abducted or murdered in 2007 than they were 30 years prior (Gill, 2007).

The effects of the fear of strangers are immense. It can cause children and their parents to be needlessly anxious and creates a standard where controlling parenting is seen as good, whereas giving children freedom and space away from adults is seen as irresponsible. Primary school aged children have lost dramatic amounts of freedom with the average age children are allowed to travel to school, visit a friend or shop unaccompanied rising from 7 to 10 years of age in just 3 years. Another dangerous effect is that safety messages warning children not to talk to strangers can frighten both adults and children from turning to each other to request or give help, should a child find themselves lost, unaccompanied or in trouble (Gill, 2007).

Turning to the subject of children’s playgrounds, large amounts of money has been invested in safety flooring for children’s playgrounds after a media campaign by a popular TV program. This expensive modification came at the expense of other pieces of playground equipment being installed, local authorities diverted budgets from other priorities and in some cases playgrounds were closed due to lack of funds. However statistics show that the chances of a child being killed in a typical primary school population as a result of a playground equipment accident are extremely low - 1 every 3 or 4 years. Or to explain it a different way, less than 30 million to 1. These figures have been stable for years with little evidence of a decline despite the new surfacing. Thus, as a result of the culture of risk aversion £200 to £300 million was invested in a safety measure that has saved the lives of 1 or 2 children (Gill, 2007).

These examples both demonstrate that risk aversion is guided primarily by fear rather than fact. Statistically, children are safer today that at any time in the past, however rare tragic events can lead to overreactions in emotive situations without scientific evidence being taken into account.  This can have a huge impact on the everyday lives of children, resulting in more restrictions and limitations, shrinking freedom, increased adult supervision and control, a decline in outdoor experiences such as school trips and break times and unnatural, less challenging play spaces. The consequences of this can be damaging, as overprotective measures insulate children and prevent them from developing their own coping mechanisms and ways of doing things (Gill, 2007).

Children’s satisfaction and state of happiness depends on meeting their developmental needs, developing their rights and their status and role in the family and community (Casas, cited in Kehily, 2009). Children need to grow up free from psychological harm and with good self-esteem. They are capable, have their own views, thoughts and ambitions (Kehily, 2009).

The concept of resilience has been widely researched as a desirable outcome for growing children developing into healthy, well-adjusted adults. Resilience can be defined as a confident attitude, willingness to confront challenges and ability to cope with setbacks (Lindon, 2005).

Every child is born with the ability to use an amount of agency. Their ability to act independently is a good sign for the future generation of adults; therefore adults have a responsibility to encourage this (James and James, 2004). Children desire more independence, more action, more exploration. They are driven to seek out opportunities for autonomy, risk taking, adventure, creativity and excitement. Risk can have benefits under the right circumstances, accidents and injuries can help children to develop their ability to assess and manage risk. Thinking of them as vulnerable and not allowing them experience can leave them more vulnerable (Gill, 2007).

What is needed is a balance between protection and freedom. A common sense approach to assessing risks and benefits. An emphasis on the importance of good evidence, rather than emotional responses. Recognition of the benefits of permitting children freedom to explore, be accountable and experience risk for themselves. Acceptance that they may make mistakes yet they will learn from them.  Affirmation of their ability to recover from mistakes whether they are accidents, injuries, failure, even disaster (Gill, 2007).

This approach can foster resilience and self-esteem, both essential qualities in happy, healthy, confident, well-adjusted adults who feel they have control over their lives and understand the significance of their actions. 

In conclusion, risk aversion is the human compulsion to avoid exposure to danger, injury and loss. Fuelled by fear caused by exaggerations in the media we underestimate our children and attempt to increasingly measure and regulate insecurities around risk. These fears may not be relative to the facts and yet the resulting actions become culturally accepted norms in the lives of children in contemporary western society.

Our children feel the effects of risk aversion throughout every aspect of their lives and it limits their ability to explore, be creative, make mistakes, experience pain and learn how to manage risk for themselves.

By recognising the benefits of risk and allowing children the opportunity to learn from their own mistakes we can help foster essential qualities found in happy, healthy, well-adjusted adults.




Beck, U. (1992) Risk Society: towards a new modernity. London: Sage

Boyne, R. (2003) Risk. Open University Press: Buckinghamshire

Cunningham, H. (2006) The Invention of Childhood. London: BBC Books

Gill, T. (2007) No fear: growing up in a risk averse society

James, A. and James, A. L. (2004) Constructing Childhood: Theory, policy and social practice. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

Jones, P. (2009) Rethinking childhood: Attitudes in contemporary society. London: Continum International Publishing Group

Kehily, M. J. (2009) An introduction to childhood studies. Maidenhead: Open university press

Lindon, J. (2005) Understanding child development: Linking theory and practice. London: Hodder Arnold, 2005

Oxford Dictionaries (2014) Definition of Aversion. Available at: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/aversion?searchDictCode=all (Accessed: 16th December 2014)

Oxford Dictionaries (2014) Definition of Risk.  Available at: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/risk?searchDictCode=all (Accessed: 16th December 2014)

Tulloch, J. and Lupton, D. (2003) Risk and everyday life. London: SAGE

Creativity... nature or nurture?

The nature versus nurture debate has been one of the oldest and most controversial issues in psychology and philosophy.

Extreme positions have been taken, with those in exclusive support of nature (Nativists) believing our genetic inheritance is the primary influence on development and those exclusively supporting nurture (Empiricists) arguing that our environment is the primary influence. In the middle of the two arguments sit the Interactionists, claiming that human development is a combination of both biological and environmental factors.

In this essay I will look at the key theories in support of each side of the debate, then I will choose one of my traits and examine whether it may have been influenced by my genes, my environment or both.

Nativists believed development was genetically predetermined; that our patterns of development were inborn. Darwin (1859), cited in Hololand (2006), was considered a Nativist with his theories of evolution and natural selection. G. Stanley Hall, (1844-1924), cited in Bee & Boyd (2007), was an early childhood researcher who believed skills were mastered in a set order according to a predetermined biological plan.  Arnold Gesell (1928), cited in Keenan & Evans (2014) referred to development as maturation, which he reported was a genetically set sequence of biological growth.

Empiricists believed all knowledge was determined by our environment and experiences from the moment of birth. John Locke, cited in Bee & Boyd (2007), a British philosopher, took the empiricist position and claimed that when children were born their minds were ‘blank slates’, that everything they became was shaped by their experience and environment. John Watson (1878 – 1958), cited in Bee & Boyd (2007), was one of the earliest child-rearing ‘experts’. His views on child development were radically different to Hall – he did not believe that development was inborn, instead he coined the term ‘behaviourism’ which he used to define development as changes in behaviour caused by the influence of the environment.  Urie Bronfenbrenner (1979), cited in McDowell Clark (2010), developed an insightful ecological model of childhood which offers a view of the wide range of different environmental systems and their impact on child development.

Interactionists assert that human development is a combination of the interaction between both our genetic inheritance and our environmental experiences.  In his studies over the course of forty years, Piaget (1940), evolved a new discipline, with his theory of genetic epistemology. Piaget challenged strong environmentalist ideas of child development and demonstrated the complex ways in which the environment and our innate structures constantly interact. Brain development studies recognise that the brain is modifiable through experience, known as Plasticity, and that there are sensitive periods for cognitive and emotional development; if certain connections are not made during the window of opportunity, these circuits may shut down and it may not be possible to regain them fully (Keenan and Evans, 2014). Today it is widely accepted that early development is genetically directed but continuously modified by experience - from the moment we receive our genetic endowment at conception we experience biological and environmental influences (Keenan & Evans 2014). The challenge for scientists is to examine how they both interact and influence development, known as Epigenesis (Keenan & Evans 2014) .

The character trait I have chosen to examine is creativity. I am able to sing, play musical instruments, write songs, poems, stories, design interiors and generally find I have a creative way of looking at things in everyday life. 

Looking at this trait from the Naturist perspective it could be argued that it is a genetically predetermined pattern, as there are a high proportion of creative people in my family particularly singers, songwriters and musicians but also artists with painting and drawing abilities.  I could propose that the creative genes have been passed down from one generation to the next as on my Mother’s side of the family two creative grandparents have produced seven children - four creative and three not. My Mother was one of their creative children.  She and my non-creative Father produced two creative children and one of those - my Sister - went on to produce one creative and one non-creative child, with a non-creative father.  This fits with the possible patterns of genetic inheritance.

In assessing my creative traits from an Empiricist perspective, I notice that my main environmental ecosystems according to Bronfenbrenner’s model have been rich in creativity. In the womb and since birth I have been exposed to music, singing, performance, art and writing.  I have been encouraged and supported in participating in creative experiences and learning new creative skills from an early age.  All through my childhood I have been encouraged to make musical sounds, interact with music, perform and experiment both in my immediate family and also in my extended family and extended social circle. As I grew older I was involved in more varied creative groups and extracurricular creative activities at school and all of these experiences have had a significant impact on my creative abilities and drive to seek out new similarly fulfilling experiences.

Linking the theory of how my environmental and biological creative influences combine is not straightforward due to the complex ways in which they interact. It is difficult to separate the genetic influences from the environmental influences however as the non-creative children in my family were exposed to similar biological and environmental influences and did not grow up to exhibit any creative traits, this suggests that experience alone and nature alone are not responsible for the traits we develop as we mature. It seems likely that I have inherited creative genes from my Mother’s side, and yet my development would also have been continuously modified through my creative experiences and environment from my time inside the womb through to birth, early childhood, middle childhood, adolescence and into adulthood.

In summary, through assessing whether this character trait is the product of nature, nurture, or both, I have found that there are genetically programmed patterns of development that we go through in a sequential order and that also these developments are affected by environmental factors, our experience of the world, and our interaction with others.  It is difficult to pinpoint the specific ways in which these different factors have influenced the development of this specific trait and also how much influence each aspect has had - whether it has been influenced mostly by nature or mostly by nurture, or evenly influenced by both. What is clear is that both nature and nurture have combined and constantly interacted, in order for this trait to be developed.




Bee, H. and Boyd, D. (2007), The developing child. Pearson Education Inc

Hololand, A. (2006), Continuum Encyclopedia Of British Philosophy, 2, pp. 785-789, Humanities International Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 28 Oct 2014

Keenan, T. and Evans, S. (2014) An introduction to child development. TJ International Ltd

McDowell Clark, R. (2010) Childhood in Society: for early childhood studies, Learning Matters

Piaget (1940) Jean Piaget: ‘Six Psychological Studies’. Elkind, D. (ed.) (1980) Harvester Press Ltd.