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.
Reviewed by Dr. Kristie Rivers, September 2020
- 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.