Spanking: What are the Potential Effects?

Updated 4 years ago

By- Dr. David Prescott – Acadia HospitalThe Controversy Around Spanking: Arguments about the potential benefits and drawbacks of spanking as a means of child discipline have been ongoing for decades. Research shows that a majority of Americans do not oppose spanking as an occasional way of stopping undesirable behavior. And, most people agree that spanking can cross a line to where it constitutes physical abuse. However, answering the question of whether or not spanking truly causes problems in children has proven to be complex and difficult. Recent Research on Negative Effects of Spanking: A soon to be published study conducted at Tulane University examined the impact of spanking 3-year old children, following them until they were 5 years old. Results showed that children who were spanked more frequently at age 3 were more likely to show aggressive behaviors by age 5. The study was unique in that it attempted to sort out the impact of spanking from other potential factors which could cause aggression, such as levels of aggression/violence between parents, neglect by parents, or stress/depression in the mother. When the impact of these other factors was removed, it still appeared that children who were spanked frequently were more likely to be aggressive. Children who were spanked more than twice a month at age 3 were 50% more likely to commit aggressive acts at age 5. Researchers also found that the differences were not accounted for by children’s natural level of aggression. That is, it did not appear that children who were naturally more aggressive were simply more likely to be spanked. Are There Benefits to Spanking? Both research and surveys of parents show that the primary benefit associated with spanking is its immediate effect on undesirable behavior. Spanking is typically highly effective in getting an action to stop right away. The drawback cited by those opposed to spanking is that corporal punishment creates an environment where new learning is unlikely to occur. Stated another way, children who are spanked are typically at such a high level of emotional arousal that they are unlikely to learn more appropriate behaviors. It is only when emotions have calmed that learning “the right thing to do” can occur. What do Professionals Recommend? Most pediatricians and psychologists are in agreement that repeated use of spanking causes more harm than good. The American Academy of Pediatrics takes the following position: The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly opposes striking a child for any reason. If a spanking is spontaneous, parents should later explain calmly why they did it, the specific behavior that provoked it, and how angry they felt. They also might apologize to their child for their loss of control. This usually helps the youngster to understand and accept the spanking, and it models for the child how to remediate a wrong.What to Do Instead of Spanking? Psychologists and other health professionals have developed many techniques to help children learn more appropriate and desirable behaviors without using corporal punishment. Strategies such as using time out, rewarding positive behavior, and teaching non-aggressive ways of coping with anger and frustration have benefitted many parents and children. Many parenting books, as well as the web sites of the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, offer guidance on these approaches. For more Information: American Psychological Association: Academy of Pediatrics: www.aap.orgAmerican Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: