Objective. To describe and compare disciplinary beliefs and practices among African American parents from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds.

Methods. A cross-sectional survey was conducted of self-identified African American parents of children <48 months of age at 2 ambulatory teaching clinics, 2 community health centers, and 3 private practices in Washington, DC, and the surrounding metropolitan area. Disciplinary beliefs and practices of African American parents were measured.

Results. A total of 175 of the 189 parents who were approached for the study completed the survey for a participation rate of 92.5%. Middle/upper socioeconomic status (SES) parents in this study were more likely to be married (60.9% vs 14.7%), older (31.4 years vs 25 years), and more educated (80% having attended at least some college vs 34.4%) than lower SES parents. There were no significant differences between middle/upper and lower SES parents with regard to their belief in a preferred disciplinary method (teaching, spanking, removing) or approach (positive, negative). Lower SES parents were more likely to endorse spanking a 1- to 3-year-old child if they were doing something that was not safe (90.5% vs 78.3%). Middle/upper SES parents were significantly more likely to reward their child for positive behavior than lower SES parents (66.1% vs 47.1%).

Conclusions. Lower and middle/upper SES parents in this study population were reasonably similar with respect to disciplinary beliefs and practices. Exceptions to this generalization were that lower SES parents were more likely to endorse spanking as a response to an unsafe behavior on the part of the child, and middle/upper SES parents reported higher levels of reward for positive behavior.

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