TUESDAY, Aug. 7, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Parents may resort to physical means of admonishing their kids in public spaces much more frequently than they admit to in surveys, a new study suggests.
In another finding, the research showed that fathers tended to more often dole out hugs versus spankings to their kids when out in public.
The study, from a team at Michigan State University, is published in the current issue of Behavior and Social Issues.
According to the researchers, parents dealing with misbehaving children in public places often resort to "negative touches" -- actions such as arm-pulling, pinching, slapping and spanking. But "positive touches," such as patting, tickling or hugging, are typically more effective in getting young children to behave, the researchers say.
In conducting the study, student researchers anonymously watched 106 incidents between caregivers and children between the ages of 3 and 5 years old in public places, such as restaurants and parks. The study revealed that 23 percent of the children received some type of negative touch when they did not do what they were asked to do by their parents.
"I was very surprised to see what many people consider a socially undesirable behavior done by nearly a quarter of the caregivers," study leader Kathy Stansbury, trained psychologist and associate professor in Michigan State University's department of human development and family studies, said in a university news release. "I have also seen hundreds of kids and their parents in a lab setting and never once witnessed any of this behavior."
Although the study revealed male caregivers touched the children (either in a negative or positive way) more often than women, most of the time the men provided the children with a positive touch.
"When we think of Dad, we think of him being the disciplinarian, and Mom as nurturer, but that's just not what we saw," Stansbury said. "I do think that we are shifting as a society and fathers are becoming more involved in the daily mechanics of raising kids, and that's a good thing for the kids and also a good thing for the dads."
The study authors pointed out that children comply more often and more quickly to positive touches than a negative touch or physical form of punishment.
"If your child is upset and not minding you and you want to discipline them, I would use a positive, gentle touch," said Stansbury. "Our data found that negative touch didn't work."
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has more about children and discipline.