this descriptive and correlational study, carried out at a teaching hospital in 2004, aimed to get to know if, in the context of domestic violence, parents use physical violence as an educational practice. semistructured interviews were used to characterize the population, and situations of daily family life to identify parents' attitude in the education process. results: the most vulnerable situation to use physical punishment was disobedience to parents' predetermined orders (40%), followed by the situation when the child steals something (31.7%). the use of physical violence as a disciplinary practice was significant (p=0.020), associated with unemployment. forty percent of the population reported they imposed their will on their child, and 57% mentioned they had been physically punished by their parents in limit-imposing situations. knowledge and reflection on factors involving domestic violence are very important to consolidate prevention programs and which could generate a collective consciousness.