Researchers from Michigan State University were shocked to find that parents who would never use physical disciple with their children while under observation were much more likely to resort to “negative touch” once they didn’t realize they were being watched. In a study of behavior observed while parents were at restaurants, parks, shopping malls and other public places, 23% of adults adults used some form of negative physical contact to discipline their kids. This included spanking, pinching, restraining and hitting. Study researcher Kathy Stansbury said, “”I have also seen hundreds of kids and their parents in a lab setting, and never once witnessed any of this behavior.”

I’m not trying to be snarky here, but… Duh! How many parents do you know who wouldn’t try to put their best foot forward when their parenting techniques were being observed? When you have company at your home, you pick things up. When you’re performing in front of the class, you stand up straight. When people are monitoring your parenting skills, you try to use the most calm and collected response to negative behavior that you can muster.

What this study tells me, more than anything, is that parents realize physical discipline isn’t “good parenting.” We know that it’s looked down on by professionals. We know that it has the possibility to affect a child’s development. We’re all aware of the problem with physical discipline, or else we wouldn’t be ashamed to use it in front of a group of researchers.

The problem comes when you’re in public and your child has been complaining for hours and you’re late for an appointment and you don’t know what you’re going to do for dinner and suddenly one of your children does something intensely embarrassing. Those moments of frustration are when a mother reaches out and grabs the arm of her child. Those are the times when she threatens to give a spanking. Or she actually goes through with it.

Parents realize that physical discipline isn’t considered an acceptable practice anymore, but we overlook that fact in high-pressure situations. And if you’ve ever taken a finnicky toddler into public, you’re aware of just how high-pressure it can be.

I think parents are pretty aware of what discipline techniques work. I think we realize that controlling our tempers and remaining positive helps children much more than grabbing their arms or swatting them on the butt. What parents need is help coping with stress, so that the frustration can be kept at bay. We need to know how to keep our own emotions in check, so that we don’t get into a situation when physical discipline becomes your last resort.

(Photo: Valeriy Lebedev/Shutterstock)