For more than 5 million American children, punishment at home has meant being shot, stabbed, kicked, beaten or bitten by their parents, a new nationwide survey shows.

Richard J. Gelles of the University of Rhode Island told the American Association for the Advancement of Science he found that three of every 100 parents, an estimated 1.2 million parents nationwide, have used knives and guns on their youngsters, and another 1.2 million have threatened to harm their children with the weapons.

The survey was designed to find out what leads to violence in the family and how it can be stopped.Families of differing social and economic backgrounds were studied.

As many as 3.9 million children between 3 and 17 have been kicked, bitten or punched by their parents, Gelles said, and as many as 2.2 million more have been "beaten up."

Violence in the home is not limited to attacks on children by parents, said Murray Straus of the University of New Hampshire and Suzanne L. Steinmetz of the University of Delaware.

Examining relationships between 2,143 husbands and wives, they found the 28 per cent of the couples admitted having slapped or hit each other, and one partner in 100 had shot, stabbed or severely beaten the other.