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Parents Face a Discipline Dilemma

National ZERO TO THREE survey indicates parents struggle with finding effective methods.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Discipline is one of the toughest, yet most important, jobs for parents when it comes to raising young children.

Tuning In, a national parent survey conducted by ZERO TO THREE and the Bezos Family Foundation, revealed some surprising insights about the degree to which parents struggle with finding effective ways to discipline.

“The earliest years of a child’s life are about teaching – not punishing” said Matthew Melmed, executive director, ZERO TO THREE. “Parents appreciate that discipline is not just about correcting ‘misbehavior’ but also promoting overall development.”

The desire for effective discipline strategies crosses all economic, gender and racial/ethnic lines. More than half of parents (57 percent) surveyed indicated that one of their biggest challenges is “figuring out the most effective way to discipline,” and an almost equal number (56 percent) say one of their biggest challenges is “managing my child when he/she misbehaves.”

Through Tuning In, parents told ZERO TO THREE that while they use a range of discipline strategies, they find most ineffective, especially harsh approaches such as yelling, spanking and “popping” or “swatting.” That holds true even for those parents who use those methods the most. For example, while 38 percent of parents indicate they yell a few times a week or more, only 12 percent of those parents say they find it is one of the most effective strategies.

“Almost a third – 30 percent – of all parents told us they spank even though they don’t feel ok about it,” said Melmed. “In fact, of the parents who say they spank their children a few times a week or more, a whopping 77 percent say they don’t think it’s one of the most effective methods. These moms and dads are hungry for better strategies.”

Science has proven that children who have experienced nurturing and positive connections have more secure, healthy relationships. They are also more likely to do well academically and socially into adulthood than children who experience insensitive or harsh caregiving. ZERO TO THREE offers a range of materials that can help parents of very young children learn about discipline and limit setting.

More results from Tuning In can be found at zerotothree.org/parent-survey, including in-depth findings on the discipline dilemma.


ZERO TO THREE works to ensure all babies and toddlers benefit from the family and community connections critical to their well-being and development. Since 1977, the organization has advanced the proven power of nurturing relationships by transforming the science of early childhood into helpful resources, practical tools and responsive policies for millions of parents, professionals and policymakers. For more information, and to learn how to become a ZERO TO THREE member, please visit zerotothree.org, facebook.com/ZEROTOTHREE or follow @ZEROTOTHREE on Twitter.


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