The objective of this study was to examine associations between maternal and paternal use of corporal punishment (CP) for 3-year-old children and intimate partner aggression or violence (IPAV) in a population-based sample.
The study sample (N = 1997) was derived from wave 3 of the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study. Mother and father reports regarding their use of CP and their IPAV victimization were analyzed. IPAV included coercion and nonphysical and physical aggression.
Approximately 65% of the children were spanked at least once in the previous month by 1 or both parents. Of couples who reported any family aggression (87%), 54% reported that both CP and IPAV occurred. The most prevalent patterns of co-occurrence involved both parents as aggressors either toward each other (ie, bilateral IPAV) or toward the child. The presence of bilateral IPAV essentially doubled the odds that 1 or both parents would use CP, even after controlling for potential confounders such as parenting stress, depression, and alcohol or other drug use. Of the 5 patterns of co-occurring family aggression assessed, the “single aggressor” model, in which only 1 parent aggressed in the family, received the least amount of empirical support.
Despite American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendations against the use of CP, CP use remains common in the United States. CP prevention efforts should carefully consider assumptions made about patterns of co-occurring aggression in families, given that adult victims of IPAV, including even minor, nonphysical aggression between parents, have increased odds of using CP with their children.