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Transactional and Cascading Relations Between Early Spanking and Children's Social-Emotional Development


  • Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 3435 Social Science Building, 1180 Observatory Dr., Madison, WI 53706.

Department of Social Work, Helen Bader School of Social Welfare, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, P.O. Box 786, Milwaukee, WI 53201-0786 (


The authors tested a series of models linking spanking and child social-emotional outcomes using a sample of 3,870 families from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing study. Spanking was measured by the number of times the focal child was spanked by the mother at ages 1, 3, and 5. Internalizing and externalizing symptoms were assessed using the Child Behavior Checklist at ages 3 and 5. Child emotionality was used to index child behavior at age 1. A series of nested transactional and cascade models was tested through structural equation modeling. The final model supported transactional effects between spanking and child externalizing behaviors over child ages 1, 3, and 5. In addition, one cascade effect was found: Spanking at age 1 was related to greater externalizing behavior at age 3, which was related to greater internalizing behavior at age 5. Implications for family theory and future research are discussed.