• Users Online: 271
  • Home
  • Print this page
  • Email this page
Home About us Editorial board Ahead of print Current issue Search Archives Submit article Instructions Subscribe Contacts Login 

 Table of Contents  
Year : 2022  |  Volume : 24  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 149-153

Spare the rod and spoil the child? Child disciplining practices adopted by mothers in Urban Maharashtra, India

1 Station Health Organisation, Ferozpur, Punjab, India
2 Department of Community Medicine, AFMC, Pune, Maharashtra, India
3 Public Health Consultant, Pune, Maharashtra, India

Date of Submission23-Jul-2021
Date of Decision24-Jan-2022
Date of Acceptance21-Feb-2022
Date of Web Publication10-Aug-2022

Correspondence Address:
(Dr) Reema Mukherjee
GA 16 Utopia Housing Society, Pune - 411 040, Maharashtra
Login to access the Email id

Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/jmms.jmms_102_21

Rights and Permissions

Background: Very little is known about child disciplining practices adopted by parents in India. Few studies carried out in India have shown a high prevalence of violent disciplining practices. Aims: We carried out this study to assess the nature and severity of violent disciplinary practices (VDPs) adopted by mothers in urban Maharashtra and identify possible social and demographic factors associated with them. Materials and Methods: This descriptive cross-sectional study was carried out in a hospital attached to a medical college in Western Maharashtra, India. One hundred mothers were included in our study, and written informed consent was taken from all participants. The UNICEF/WHO Child Discipline Module questionnaire was used as the data collection tool. Ethical clearance was also obtained from the Institutional Ethical Committee before the conduct of the research. Statistical Analysis: Contingencies tables were made to find out factors associated with discipline behavior. Bivariate logistic regression was done, and factors found statistically significant were taken into multivariable logistic regression. Results: Seventy-one percent of mothers used VDP against their children. The older age of a child's mother and father and female gender significantly increased the child's risk of facing VDP. Conclusion: There is a need to sensitize parents on the ill effects of VDP on the physical and mental health of children.

Keywords: Child discipline, child health, child violence, nonviolent disciplinary practice, violent disciplinary practice

How to cite this article:
Nair SV, Yadav AK, Mukherjee R. Spare the rod and spoil the child? Child disciplining practices adopted by mothers in Urban Maharashtra, India. J Mar Med Soc 2022;24:149-53

How to cite this URL:
Nair SV, Yadav AK, Mukherjee R. Spare the rod and spoil the child? Child disciplining practices adopted by mothers in Urban Maharashtra, India. J Mar Med Soc [serial online] 2022 [cited 2023 Mar 21];24:149-53. Available from: https://www.marinemedicalsociety.in/text.asp?2022/24/2/149/353643

  Introduction Top

Parents use punishment as a ready tool to discipline children. Punishment is widely accepted as a socially appropriate method of teaching children “right from wrong.” There is no universally accepted classification of child disciplinary practices. Parents and caregivers broadly use two tactics to teach the child acceptable behavior: Nonviolent disciplinary practices(NVDP) and Violent disciplinary practices(VDP). NVDP comprises positive reinforcement strategies, redirecting the child's attention, and paying attention to the positives, whereas VDP uses physical or psychological aggression as a disciplinary tool.[1],[2],[3],[4] What constitutes child discipline and what form of disciplinary practice is acceptable differs across different countries, socioeconomic settings, and cultural environments. Most cultures permit, condone, and even encourage VDP to discipline children; however, such violent aggression against children may have long-term negative consequences on the child's development and well-being.[1],[5],[6] The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that VDPs amount to a violation of a child's right to protection from all forms of violence while in the care of their parents/caregivers.[4] An abusive parent–child (PC) relationship, be it physical, emotional, or sexual, even to discipline the child, is a clear violation of the latter's human rights.[7]

Most violence against children is physical punishment or psychological aggression; it takes place in their homes. UNICEF reported that an alarming 84% of children in the age group of 2 to 4 years faced VDP at their homes, and almost 60% of them experienced severe forms of physical aggression.[1] A study from Turkey reported that nine out of ten mothers, of children between 2 and 5 years, use either physical or psychological aggression to discipline their children.[8] A study from Vietnam reported a similar percentage of children in the age group of 2–14 years exposed to violent physical aggression as a discipline tool.[9]

Relatively little is known about how parents discipline their children in India. A study from Kerala reported that 50% of mothers use severe physical abuse against their children.[10] In a large-scale study from rural Maharashtra, 42% of mothers accepted that they use physical punishment for their children.[11] The complex web of poverty, beliefs, cultural attitudes, and gender bias, especially in countries such as India, makes it difficult to define and identify child abuse and neglect within a family.[12] In our country, child physical abuse is an understated issue and takes many forms both within the family and society. Without adequate data, it is difficult to describe the nature and extent of physical intimidation children face in their homes or develop effective strategies to promote positive parenting and prevent violence against children. With this background, we attempted to study the nature and severity of VDPs adopted by mothers in urban Maharashtra and identify possible social and demographic factors associated with them.

  Materials and Methods Top

We carried out this descriptive, cross-sectional study in a tertiary care hospital located in Western Maharashtra. Mothers who attended the pediatric outpatient department (OPD), having at least one child aged 3–17 years, were included in the study. Mothers whose children were suffering from a chronic ailment were excluded from the study. The study was carried out from October to December 2019. The UNICEF/WHO Child Discipline Module questionnaire was used as the data collection tool. This Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey child discipline module is a modified version of the PC Conflict Tactics Scale.[12],[13],[14]

Data were collected during face-to-face interviews. A single researcher conducted all the interviews. The interviews were conducted in the participants' preferred language (Hindi/English/Marathi) after thoroughly explaining the study's purpose. The questionnaire asked about the mother's disciplinary methods during the month preceding the interview, adopted on the child they had brought to the pediatric OPD for medical advice. Written informed consent was obtained from each participant, and ethical clearance was obtained from the institutional ethical committee.

The Child Discipline Module has 11 questions. Three of these questions inquire about NVDP (like taking away privileges, explaining to the child why his/her behavior was wrong). There are eight items on VDPs. Of these eight questions, two items pertain to psychological aggression, four to physical punishment, and two to severe physical punishment.

We calculated the sample size assuming the proportion of mothers using VDP as 80%,[13] with 10% relative precision and 95% confidence interval. The calculated sample size was 96. However, 100 consecutive mothers attending OPD during the study period were enrolled in the study.

The data were collated in MS Excel. The qualitative variable is summarized as percentages and numbers. Contingencies tables were made to find out factors associated with discipline behavior. Bivariate logistic regression was done, and factors found statistically significant were taken into multivariable logistic regression. The data were analyzed using StataCorp. 2019. Stata Statistical Software: Release 16. College Station, TX, USA: StataCorp LLC. P < 0.05 was considered significant.

  Results Top

Sociodemographic characteristics

We studied the responses of 100 mothers regarding the disciplining practices adopted toward their children. A majority (59%) of the children were male. Nineteen percent of children were single children in their families. Of the 100 mothers included, 61% were aged 26–33 years, and 32% were graduates and above. Nineteen percent of the fathers belonged to the age group between 26 and 41 years. Only 32% of the mothers were working women compared to 100% employed fathers. The socio-demographic details of the participants are given in [Table 1].
Table 1: Distribution of sociodemographic variable with reference to violent disciplinary practice

Click here to view

Child disciplinary practices

In our study, most mothers (71%) admitted using some VDPs in the preceding month, whereas 29% used only NVDPs to discipline their children. We report the use of psychological aggression by 52% of mothers (call the child stupid/silly or shout at the child) and “violent discipline' by 17% of mothers (being hit on the face/head/ears or being hit with a belt/stick brush or being hit repeatedly). Among the 29 mothers who only adopted NVDP on their children, the majority (76%) tried to explain to the child why their behavior was wrong [Figure 1]. Of the 71 mothers who used VDP, a majority (70.4%) shouted at their children, and 25% of mothers called their children “dumb or silly” [Figure 2]. Both these disciplining practices are considered psychological aggression. Of these 71 mothers adopting VDP, 59 (83.1%) mothers used physical aggression against the child.
Figure 1: Nonviolent discipling practices adopted by mothers

Click here to view
Figure 2: Violent discipling practices adopted by mothers

Click here to view

In the bivariate analysis [Table 2], we found that odds of facing VDP were significantly higher for children with older mothers (odd ratio [OR] = 6.06; 1.3–27), older fathers (OR = 3.8; 1.5–9.6), and lesser-educated mothers (OR 3.6; 1.4–9.0).
Table 2: Bivariate and multivariable logistic regression analysis of factor associated with violent disciplinary practice

Click here to view

However, in the multivariable analysis, only gender and mothers' age were significantly associated with the outcome.

  Discussion Top

We report a 71% prevalence of VDP by mothers to discipline their children. Only 29% of mothers used NVDP. This is higher than that reported by Nair et al. from Kerala (50%) and Hunter et al. from rural Maharashtra (42%).[10],[11] However, our findings are consistent with the World SAFE study findings carried out in several locations in India, where 63%–89% of families resorted to physical abuse. In contrast, almost 3%–40% of families admitted to using harsh physical punishment to discipline their children.[14]

A UNICEF report in 2014[13] analyzed data from around 62 countries and found that 80% of children aged 2–14 face “violent discipline,” and 17% experienced severe physical punishment by their caregivers in the past month. The percentage of children experiencing violent punishment ranges from 38% in Bosnia and Herzegovina to 95% in Yemen. In a study conducted on mothers in Brazil, Chile, Egypt, India, the Philippines, and the United States, 14.3% of the children were found to have experienced rigorous and physically abusive discipline.[15] This variation in the prevalence of VDPs across different regions highlights the thorny issue of child discipline and parents' differing views on what constitutes correct or acceptable child-rearing and parenting practices.

Our study found that older mothers and fathers and mothers with low education tend to adopt VDP. We did not find any association between the family's socioeconomic status and children's experience of VDP. Hunter et al. reported a 6% increased likelihood of VDPs by mothers with each unit decrease in education.[11] Studies from the United States and elsewhere also show low maternal education and low socioeconomic status associated with child abuse and physical punishment.[16],[17] However, the multicounty UNICEF study did not report any association between socioeconomic status and physical abuse.[15]

Girls were more likely to face VDP in our study (OR 3.7;1.2–11.1). While Hunter et al. found no sex difference for any form of discipline,[11] studies from Hong Kong and China have found the experience of VDP to be gendered with a higher rate of violence against boys than girls by the mothers.[18] However, there are reports that Indian mothers subject their girls to severe physical violence.[19] It is possible that parents are harsher toward a girl child as they feel she needs to conform to the stereotypical view of being obedient and subservient, and any act to the contrary may invite parental displeasure and discipline.[13]

Ours is one of the few studies carried out in India on the issue of child disciplining practices. We have also used a standardized questionnaire, and hence, our findings are comparable with other studies utilizing the same questionnaire. However, there are certain limitations with our study; there is a possibility of a misclassification bias as the mothers' responses could have been tempered by what is considered socially acceptable, especially as some of the children were ill. Recall bias and the fact that the study participants were mothers attending the pediatric OPD of a tertiary care hospital in an urban area could affect the finding and the generalizability of this study's findings cannot be generalized to other populations. However, despite these limitations, our study does bring out the widespread prevalence of violent disciplining practices being adopted by mothers, and further qualitative studies are required to understand this pertinent health issue.

  Conclusion Top

We found that most mothers we interviewed resort to violent child discipline measures. While ensuring good behavior and self-discipline in children is a vital parenting responsibility, with growing evidence regarding the impact of child-rearing and disciplining on children's future emotional and mental health, there is a need in India to sensitize parents against the use of such methods.

We conclude that although violence against children in the garb of disciplined child-rearing is widespread in our communities, still not recognized as a cause of harm. Extensive awareness generation needs to sensitize mothers and caregivers about the health impacts that the VDPs can have on their kids in the future.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Cuartas J, McCoy DC, Rey-Guerra C, Britto PR, Beatriz E, Salhi C. Early childhood exposure to non-violent discipline and physical and psychological aggression in low- and middle-income countries: National, regional, and global prevalence estimates. Child Abuse Negl 2019;92:93-105.  Back to cited text no. 1
Kessler RC, Berglund P, Demler O, Jin R, Merikangas KR, Walters EE. Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Arch Gen Psychiatry 2005;62:593-602.  Back to cited text no. 2
Ortiz-Ospina E, Roser M. Violence against Children and Children's Rights. Our World in Data; 2017. Available from: https://ourworldindata.org/violence-against-rights-for-children. [Last accessed on 2021 Jan 26].  Back to cited text no. 3
Child Disciplinary Practices at Home: Evidence from a Range of Low- and Middle-Income Countries. UNICEF DATA2011. Available from: https://data.unicef.org/resources/child-disciplinary-practices-at-home-evidence-from-a-range-of-low-and-middle-income-countries/. [Last accessed on 2021 Jan 26].  Back to cited text no. 4
Pinheiro PS. Violence against children: A global report. Ciência Saúde Coletiva 2006;11:453-60.  Back to cited text no. 5
Rick S, Douglas DH. Neurobiological effects of childhood abuse. J Psychosoc Nurs Ment Health Serv 2007;45:47-54.  Back to cited text no. 6
Casillas KL. Commentary: Violent child disciplinary practices in low- and middle-income households. Int J Epidemiol 2011;40:227-9.  Back to cited text no. 7
Omaç Sönmez M, Genç MF, Karaoğlu L. Violent discipline behaviors in mothers of preschool children in Malatya, East Anatolia. J Interpers Violence 2020;35:5292-310.  Back to cited text no. 8
Cappa C, Dam H. Prevalence of and risk factors for violent disciplinary practices at home in Viet Nam. J Interpers Violence 2014;29:497-516.  Back to cited text no. 9
Nair MK, Rajmohanan K, Remadevi S, Nair SM, Ghosh CS, Leena ML. Child disciplining practices in Kerala. Indian Pediatr 2009;46 Suppl: s83-5.  Back to cited text no. 10
Hunter WM, Jain D, Sadowski LS, Sanhueza AI. Risk factors for severe child discipline practices in rural India. J Pediatr Psychol 2000;25:435-47.  Back to cited text no. 11
Straus MA, Hamby SL, Finkelhor D, Moore DW, Runyan D. Identification of child maltreatment with the Parent-Child Conflict Tactics Scales: Development and psychometric data for a national sample of American parents. Child Abuse Negl 1998;22:249-70.  Back to cited text no. 12
Cappa C. Hidden in Plain Sight: A Statistical Analysis of Violence against Children. New York, USA: UNICEF; 2014.  Back to cited text no. 13
Runyan DK, Shankar V, Hassan F, Hunter WM, Jain D, Paula CS, et al. International variations in harsh child discipline. Pediatrics 2010;126:e701-11.  Back to cited text no. 14
Sadowski LS, Hunter WM, Bangdiwala SI, Muñoz SR. The world studies of abuse in the family environment (WorldSAFE): A model of a multi-national study of family violence. Inj Control Saf Promot 2004;11:81-90.  Back to cited text no. 15
Kelly ML, Power TG, Wimbush DD. Determinants of disciplinary practices in low-income black mothers. Child Dev 1992;63:573-82.  Back to cited text no. 16
Kotch JB, Browne DC, Ringwalt CL, Stewart PW, Ruina E, Holt K, et al. Risk of child abuse or neglect in a cohort of low-income children. Child Abuse Negl 1995;19:1115-30.  Back to cited text no. 17
Tang CS. The rate of physical child abuse in Chinese families: A community survey in Hong Kong. Child Abuse Negl 1998;22:381-91.  Back to cited text no. 18
Indian Girls Face Violence from Mothers: Unicef. Hindustan Times; 2014. Available from: https://www.hindustantimes.com/india/indian-girls-face-violence-from-mothers-unicef/story-k5V8IBHftlo6m3t1uhzF8M.html. [Last accessed on 2021 Jul 21].  Back to cited text no. 19


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2]

  [Table 1], [Table 2]


Similar in PUBMED
   Search Pubmed for
   Search in Google Scholar for
 Related articles
Access Statistics
Email Alert *
Add to My List *
* Registration required (free)

  In this article
Materials and Me...
Article Figures
Article Tables

 Article Access Statistics
    PDF Downloaded67    
    Comments [Add]    

Recommend this journal