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Revista Panamericana de Salud Pública

Print version ISSN 1020-4989


LOPEZ STEWART, Carmen et al. Parenting and physical punishment: primary care interventions in Latin America. Rev Panam Salud Publica [online]. 2000, vol.8, n.4, pp. 257-267. ISSN 1020-4989.

Physical punishment is a form of intrafamilial violence associated with short- and long-term adverse mental health outcomes. Despite these possible consequences, it is among the most common forms of violent interpersonal behavior. For many children it begins within the first year of life. The goal of this study was to determine the feasibility of involving public sector primary health care providers to inform parents about alternatives to physical punishment. The study used a qualitative design utilizing focus groups and survey questionnaires with parents and providers at six clinic sites chosen to be representative of public sector practice settings in Costa Rica and in metropolitan Santiago, Chile. The data were collected during 1998 and 1999. In the focus groups and surveys the parents voiced a range of opinions about physical punishment. Most acknowledged its common use but listed it among their least preferred means of discipline. Frequency of its use correlated positively with the parents' belief in its effectiveness and inversely with their satisfaction with their children's behavior. Some parents wanted to learn more about discipline; others wanted help with life stresses they felt led them to use physical punishment. Parents reported they chose other family members more frequently as a source of parenting information than they did health care providers. Some parents saw providers as too rushed and not knowledgeable enough to give good advice. Providers, in turn, felt ill equipped to handle parents' questions, but many of the health professionals expressed interest in more training. Parents and providers agreed that problems of time, space, and resources were barriers to talking about child discipline in the clinics. Many parents and providers would welcome a primary-care-based program on physical punishment. Such a program would need to be customized to accommodate local differences in parent and provider attitudes and in clinic organization. Health care professionals need more training in child discipline and in the skills required to interact with parents on issues relating to child behavior.

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