Adult Caregivers’ Behavioral Responses to Child Noncompliance in Public Settings: Gender Differences and the Role of Positive and Negative Touch

Kathy Stansbury, David W. Haley, JungAh Lee, Holly E. E. Brophy-Herb


We examined differences in male and female caregivers’ behavioral styles, and their use of negative or positive touch in noncompliance episodes with preschool-aged children that occurred in public settings. Coders reliably coded adult caregiver behavioral style (authoritarian-type, authoritative-type, and permissive-type), positive and negative touch, and children’s latency to comply, as well as the child’s demeanor at the end of the noncompliance event. Surprisingly, almost a quarter of all children were touched negatively by adults during these public episodes. Contrary to expectations based on self-report and laboratory studies, male caregivers were more likely to use touch in noncompliance episodes with children, and more likely to use positive touch, than female caregivers. Adult caregiver behavioral style, and positive versus negative touch were each related to children’s responses in the noncompliance episodes. This work extends the findings of earlier studies about adult caregiver behavioral styles and highlights the use of positive versus negative touch as an important behavioral context for compliance requests of young children. Further, child demeanor is a crucial measure of the success of parenting behavior in noncompliance episodes because it indexes behavior occurring after compliance occurs, but which has the potential to be a significant influence on family harmony. The use of naturalistic observational methodology is a suggested as a critical step in validating findings on harsh discipline and corporal punishment that rely on methods in which social desirability may be a confound.


touch; parent-child relationship; naturalistic observation; parenting

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And Behaviorists for Social Responsibility