To spank or not to spank? 

There’s no denying children can test parents’ patience, and finding ways to effectively discipline them can be a challenge. Studies have shown that up to 90 percent of parents have spanked their children at least once. But before you settle on spanking as a disciplinary tactic, you should know that research shows that spanking is detrimental to a child.

“It’s a very controversial area even though the research is extremely telling and very clear and consistent about the negative effects on children,” says Sandra Graham-Bermann, PhD, a psychology professor and principal investigator for the Child Violence and Trauma Laboratory at the University of Michigan. “People get frustrated and hit their kids. Maybe they don’t see there are other options.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Psychological Association (APA) and the National Education Association (NEA) all strongly oppose spanking, which is a form of corporal punishment.

The negative impact of spanking

  • It increases the chance of mood disorders. Researchers found 2-7 percent of mental disorders were attributable to physical punishment. Spanking also increases the chances of a child developing anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug abuse problems, and several personality disorders in the future.
  • It promotes aggressive behavior. Research shows that frequent spanking at age 3 increased the odds of higher levels of aggression at age 5.
  • It can lower IQ. A study found that children who were spanked had lower IQs four years later than those who were not spanked.

In addition to being detrimental to the child’s overall well-being, research shows that spanking does little to reduce a child’s behavioral problems.

Alternate forms of discipline

  • Time out: Experts recommend the one-minute-per-year rule, meaning if your child is 3 years old he will be put in time out for three minutes.
  • Positive Reinforcement: Instead of just focusing on when they misbehave, remember to put a spotlight on when they do the right thing. Parents want their children to seek out positive attention instead of negative.
  • Distraction: When misbehaving, infants and toddlers can usually be redirected or distracted with a favorable activity.
  • Reasonable consequences: Taking away privileges or items (a favorite toy, video games, etc.) is an appropriate form of punishment for older kids.



  • National organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics consider spanking a form of corporal punishment.
  • It can have negative effects on a child, including an increase in mood disorders and aggressive behavior.
  • While more than 90 percent of parents admit to spanking, it does little to reduce a child’s behavioral problems.
  • There are alternative forms of discipline that work better for kids, such as timeouts, distraction, and positive reinforcement.

Last reviewed by Kristie Rivers, MD, FAAP. Review Date: September 2020


  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Physical Punishment and Mental Disorders: Results From a Nationally Represenative US Sample.
  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Mothers’ Spanking of 3-year-old Children and Subsequent Risk Of Children’s Aggressive Behavior.
  3. University of New Hampshire. Children Who Are Spanked Have Lower IQs, New Research Finds.
  4. University of New Hamphsire. Spanking by Parents and Subsequent Antisocial Behavior of Children.
  5. University of Michigan. Spanking sparks aggression, does little to reduce behavior problems.
  6. American Psychological Association. The Case Against Spanking.


  1. We have 3 children and all of them where spanked at one time or another. There is a big difference in spanking a child and beating a child, I believe it is up to the parents to decided if they are going to spank or not we have friends who are not spankers and we have friends how are. As for the lower IQ’s our two oldest our I. The gifted program in our school system so I uses we didn’t hurt them to bad as small children by swatting there behinds every once in awhile.

    1. I completely agree that there is a big difference between spanking and beating a child and I think that many parents (the ones who don’t deserve to be one) take it too far and that is why there is such a debate about it. I believe in spanking and think that it is effective but only do so when other forms of punishment do not work such as time out and when it is truly necessary. I would love to see more statistics about spanking lowering IQ because I simply do not think this is accurate for children who are in a loving, non abusive home.

  2. The great spanking debate… I’m still on the fence. I would love to not spank, but I’m just not sure if other methods will be as effective with my son. I can already tell that he’s going to be the type to push buttons, test all boundaries, and need to learn most things the hard way.


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