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It’s never “just a spanking”. This is a reality that we need to face and admit.
Using spanking to discipline a child is a way of relying on fear to get the child to have the behavior that the parent wants. It’s a way of using aggression to obtain obedience.
And it does much more than hurting the child physically. It comes with an emotional impact that we shouldn’t ignore and that brings long-term damages to the child’s development.
For years, spanking has been considered an acceptable way to discipline kids. But in the last years, more and more studies talk about the harmful effects of spanking kids. They showed that even if spanking and other types of physical punishments may seem efficient in the short run, this discipline method comes with a long-lasting negative effect.
This article is not meant to put blame on anyone. It’s not meant to criticize. I just hope that talking about the results of the research made about spanking kids will inspire parents to give up this discipline method.
The truth about the “efficiency” of spanking kids
Many parents talk about the efficiency of this discipline method by pointing out that spanking helps them obtain obedience and make kids behave better.
But the truth is that the only reason why kids stop a negative behavior after getting spanked is fear. They are afraid of being hit and this makes them change their behavior.
The real issue is that this change in behavior doesn’t mean that they really understood what they did wrong. Or that they really felt bad about what they did.
Usually, kids who are misbehaving feels disconnected from their parents. Spanking doesn’t solve this. On contrary, it brings even more disconnection between the child and the parent.
This leads to more behavior problems. And as a result – more spanking. Soon, the child and the parent enter a vicious circle that only harms their relationship even more.
“Spanking actually makes children worse behaved over the long term. They actually get harder to parent.” – Elizabeth Gershoff, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Texas
Negative effect #1: Spanking kids leads to long-term behavioral problems like low self-esteem and mental health problems
Many studies have been done in the U.S. and in other countries to show the effects of spanking kids. They clearly show that the effects are negative and they impact the children in the long run.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and many other professional societies take a clear stand against spanking and any other physical punishment.
A study performed on more than 160,000 children over a 50-year period revealed in a meta-analysis in the Journal of Family Psychology that spanking was associated with:
- antisocial behavior
- mental health problems
- low self-esteem
- negative parent-child relationships
- impaired cognitive ability.
“The upshot of the study is that spanking increases the likelihood of a wide variety of undesired outcomes for children. Spanking thus does the opposite of what parents usually want it to do.” – Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, co-author of the study
Another study released by the researchers at the University of Missouri talked about the link between kids being spanked when they were as young as 15 months old and the negative behaviors showed later in life.
“How parents treat their children at a young age significantly impacts their behavior. It is very important that parents refrain from physical punishment as it can have long-lasting impacts. If we want to nurture positive behaviors, all parents should teach a child how to regulate their behaviors early.” – Gustavo Carlo, co-author of the study
You can find out more about this study here: The negative effects of spanking could impact a child for up to 10 years: study.
It has also been shown that physical punishment has a very negative effect on a child’s cognitive development.
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Negative effect #2: Spanking kids leads to aggressive behavior later in life
Several studies (like Straus & Gelles in 1990 and Wolfe in 1987) show that the kids who were spanked by their parents are more likely to display aggressive behaviors later in life.
When parents hit kids, they model aggression and children learn by watching how their parents behave. They learn that hitting is an acceptable way to solve problems or to react when angry. This leads to an aggressive behavior towards other people during childhood but also later in life.
Negative effect #3: Spanking kids affects the long-term parent-child relationship
Spanking has another big negative effect: It undermines the trust between the child and the parent. When spanking becomes a regular occurrence, kids will start building a self-protective shield to protect them in the relationship with their parents and in relationships in general.
When the parent uses physical punishments, the child is also more likely to lie to the parent to avoid getting hit. In time, this affects the trust and connection between the child and the parent.
You can find a very helpful article about spanking and its positive alternatives here: What’s the problem with spanking?
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More resources about the negative effects of spanking kids
In my attempt to research this topic, I’ve found some great articles that explain the negative effects in details and offer more information about the finding of the studies. I have mentioned some of them previously in this article, but here are a few more:
- New study says spanking doesn’t work, makes children’s behavior worse (published by the Chicago Tribune) – I particularly liked the part where it talks about the false belief that “we were spanked as kids and we turned out okay”.
- 5 things you might not know about spanking (including whether it’s ever OK) – a long article on this topic published by Today’s Parent
- These are the countries where spanking is illegal – Sixty countries, states and territories have adopted legislation that fully prohibits using corporal punishment against children at home, according to UNICEF. This article published by CNN provides a list of all these countries and talks about what science says about spanking.
At the end of this article, I can only hope that these science-backed facts will inspire change and bring additional motivation for using gentle discipline methods.
Instead of conclusions, I will include here a short extract from a research done by UNICEF:
“Close to 300 million children aged 2 to 4 worldwide (3 out of 4) experience violent discipline by their caregivers on a regular basis
Violent discipline at home is the most common form of violence experienced by children.
Caregivers do not necessarily use violent discipline with the deliberate intention of causing harm or injury to the child. Rather, it sometimes stems from anger and frustration, lack of understanding of the harm it can cause or limited familiarity with non-violent methods.
While children of all ages are at risk, experiencing violent discipline at a young age can be particularly harmful, given the increased potential for physical injuries as well as children’s inability to understand the motivation behind the act or to adopt coping strategies to alleviate their distress.” (source)
Children deserve to live in a better and kinder world. And this starts at home with every single decision that we make as parents in our journey of raising our kids the right way.
P.S. When it comes to finding positive alternatives to use instead of spanking, I invite you to check out this big list of parenting resources that will help you find gentle solutions for many parenting challenges:
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