NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Violence and psychological abuse between parents often go hand in hand with corporal punishment of their kids, according to a new study.
As many as seven in 10 U.S. families reported some form of abuse between couples, such as slaps, kicks or keeping a partner from seeing his or her family.
"Nearly two thirds of the toddlers in these families were spanked by a parent within the last month," said Catherine A. Taylor, of Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans, who led the new study.
"The children who had the highest odds of being spanked were those whose parents were aggressive toward each other," added Taylor, whose findings are published in the journal Pediatrics.
Although the study wasn't nationally representative, it included a broad swath of families from 20 big cities across the country. Researchers interviewed mothers and fathers from almost 2,000 families when their children were three years old.
Mothers were more likely to be the ones swatting the kid, although both parents tended to use spanking more if they had been victims of aggression by their partner.
"This study is important because it is one of very few studies to look at both mothers' and fathers' use of corporal punishment," said Elizabeth Gershoff, an expert in child development and family relationships at the University of Texas at Austin.
"These results clearly show that corporal punishment of children is part of an environment of violence in many U.S. families," Gershoff, who was not involved in the research, told Reuters Health by e-mail.
Earlier studies have hinted -- but not proven -- that spanking may leave a psychological mark on toddlers, prompting aggression years later. (See Reuters Health story of April 12, 2010.)
Still, a 2008 U.S. survey showed that 77 percent of men and 65 percent of women agree that a child sometimes needs a "good hard spanking."
Many psychologists recommend time-outs and other types of non-physical punishment, and both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association discourage spanking.
"Children need good guidance and discipline from parents, but spanking has the potential to do more harm than good," said Taylor.
"Parents that find themselves in relationships where there is aggressive or controlling behavior, even if it is minor, may want to seek counseling for themselves and for the good of their children," she recommended.
SOURCE: link.reuters.com/gas77m Pediatrics, online August 23, 2010.