When your buttons have been pushed past their point by your child, you may be verging on a discipline nightmare. This is when the age-old question may arise:
To spank, or not to spank.
While less and less kids today will know the fears of the wooden spoon, we’re still debating whether spanking is an acceptable form of discipline.
Spanking literature includes a hypothesis which was proposed in the 60’s, essentially this theory argues that problematic children are the ones who elicit the spanking. In other words, difficult children are what causes parents to spank, and perhaps it was the child’s aggression that leads to this outcome in the first place.
A lot has changed since the 60’s, since then we’ve collected over 50 years of research in this social science. Physical punishment of children was once generally accepted, worldwide. Spanking was considered an appropriate method of achieving behavioural compliance at home and at school, and it was not considered as a form of physical abuse.
However, this perspective began to change as studies found links between this ‘accepted form’ of physical punishment and increased aggression, anxiety, delinquency and even spousal assault in later life (1)(2).
A 2013 Harris Poll of 2,286 adults surveyed online found 67 percent of parents said they had spanked their children and 33 percent had not. In 1995, however, 80 percent of parents said they had spanked their children while 20 percent said they had not.
Spanking is on the decline, and research backs up this heartfelt change in parenting. This form of correction has not only been found as ineffective but also as potentially harmful. In 2018, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a new policy which recommended that pediatricians provide guidance on ways that parents can develop other modalities to encourage the development of their child, this new policy does not recommend that parents to spank, hit or slap their children.
This statement is significant, as this reflects on decades of research on measured effects of corporal punishment. Parents and educators trust advice from pediatricians, and when it comes to advice for discipline -when a pediatrician says not to spank. There’s a chance that the parents will actually listen.
Children learn by imitating their role models. If you’re practicing aggression as a parent, it’s likely that your child will imitate that behavior. While spanking is performed in hopes to end the bad behaviour, the irony is that by showing your child aggression, they are likely to copy that behaviour making matters much worse (3).
Not to mention, being spanked creates feelings of embarrassment, shame, resentment, hostility, and fear. These feelings may be suppressed during childhood but are bound to emerge later in life in the form of neurosis (depression, anxiety, obsessive behaviour, hypochondria) or chaotic emotional expression.
This method of parenting is extremely harmful, and while it may not be evident at first, these issues pop up in adulthood. It’s not unlikely that the inner child who felt rejected when they really needed comfort may internalize this as feeling unworthy of love. In time this may lead to unhealthy relationships with parents or partners and additionally may be related to depression and low self-esteem (4).
Do you want those things for your child? It’s not rocket science to realize you cannot punish out the behaviors that you do not want to see.
Spanking may decrease your stress levels, but it increases stress for your child and puts them at risk of future psychological problems.
While all of these findings on how spanking can negatively affect your child’s future, we should really begin to consider spanking as a valid public health concern.
Corporal punishment is truly an ineffective tool for teaching a new behavior. Why teach your child what spanking is? They’re not going to be able to spank their boss when they’re frustrated at work, you can’t spank the customer service team at your car dealership when they tell you how much your service is, you can’t spank parking enforcement when you’re wrongfully ticketed.
It shouldn’t be the goal of the parent to suppress the bad behaviour, instead, we need to understand how to teach them to forego bad behaviour in favor of behaving well. Children are more likely to learn that violence is an acceptable means of forcing one’s will on others. They’re not internalizing that their behaviour is wrong, they’re children! Their experience of being spanked is endorsing more aggression and physical means as an acceptable form of resolving a conflict.
Spanking is the equivalent of taking a pill to quickly address our symptoms, but it’s a bandaid solution for a long term problem. Most people choose this easy way instead of engaging in the longer process which involves trying to figure out what the pain is trying to tell you about the way you’re mistreating your body.
There are always exceptions to the rule, and someone always knows somebody else who turned out ‘just fine’ after being spanked as a child. However what the research is telling us is that overall, spanking is not the way to go for the vast majority of people, so why take a chance. You only get one chance at raising your child. Your method of parenting is unique, but please – teach communication and don’t spank your children.
- Physical punishment of children: lessons from 20 years of research https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3447048/
- Spanking and Child Development during the First Five Years of Life https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3493790/
- Bobo Doll Experiment https://www.simplypsychology.org/bobo-doll.html
- Associations of neighborhood disorganization and maternal spanking with children’s aggression: A fixed-effects regression analysis https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0145213417304076