Categorized | Parenting

Should You Spank Your Child?

Posted on 23 January 2013 by admin

Dr. Laura Markham

Were you spanked as a child? Then you may think it’s a good way to guide a child. Or maybe you don’t want to spank, but you find yourself doing it because you don’t know how else to get through to your child. Interestingly, adults who were not spanked as children don’t spank their kids. It just feels wrong to them. And you know what? They find other ways to get through to their kids. And their children turn out fine.

In fact, the last thirty years of research is clear. Kids who are spanked are less emotionally healthy than kids who aren’t. What’s more, kids who are spanked behave worse over time.

So if you were spanked and think you came out alright, it wasn’t because of the spanking. You’d be even better if you hadn’t been spanked!

A 2012 study reviewed the previous two decades of research and confirmed that children who are spanked have less gray matter in their brains, and are more likely to exhibit depression, anxiety, drug use, and aggression as they get older. The only positive outcome that’s ever been shown from corporal punishment is immediate compliance; however, corporal punishment is associated with less long-term compliance. Corporal punishment has repeatedly been linked with nine other negative outcomes, including increased rates of aggression, delinquency, mental health problems, and problems in relationships with their parents.

Large, peer-reviewed studies repeatedly show that the more children are hit, the more likely they are to hit others, including peers and siblings. As adults, they are more likely to hit their spouses. The more parents spank children for antisocial behavior, the more the antisocial behavior increases. All of the peer reviewed studies being published continue to confirm these findings. A major study at Tulane University, published in Pediatrics, controlled for other factors that have been found to contribute to aggressiveness in children, including the mother’s depression, alcohol and drug use, spousal abuse and even whether the mother considered abortion while pregnant with the child. Spanking remained a strong predictor of violent behavior in the child. As five-year-olds, the children who had been spanked were more likely than the non-spanked to be defiant, demand immediate satisfaction of their wants and needs, become frustrated easily, have temper tantrums and lash out physically against other people or animals.

Quite simply, spanking produces WORSE behavior, not better behavior. It also begets more violence, because hitting children teaches them that it is acceptable to hit others who are smaller and weaker. “I’m going to hit you because you hit your sister” is a hypocrisy not lost on children. As every parent knows, kids do what we do, not what we say.

I strongly believe that permissiveness without limits creates children who are unhappy and impossible to live with. But discipline means “to teach.” If we’re serious about raising good kids, we need to use methods that teach kids to manage themselves. Spanking does not do that. Instead, it teaches kids to be afraid of us, which is no basis for love. It teaches them to be sneaky so they won’t be caught doing something wrong. It teaches kids that they are bad, so they are more likely to behave badly. It teaches kids to use violence when they want to solve a problem. And it keeps them from taking responsibility to improve their own behavior, because they “externalize the locus of control,” which means they only behave because an authority figure makes them, rather than behaving because they want to.

The secret is that spanking not only doesn’t work, it is totally unnecessary. When children are raised with age-appropriate expectations and limits accompanied by empathy, they tend to behave and cooperate. Those children don’t need much in the way of discipline at all, and they become self-disciplined adults.

So next time you get so angry you want to hit someone, tell your kids you’re taking a timeout and you’ll deal with them later. Then go into the bathroom, run the water, and calm yourself down. Use the time to get calm, not to justify your anger. When you come out, tell them you need to think hard about what they did, but right now you need to fix dinner (do the laundry, whatever.) Tell them you need them to be little angels, and you will talk when you are all calm later. Then follow through. Your discipline and teaching will be so much more effective. They’ll learn a lot better when they aren’t in the flush of flight or flight hormones. And you will be so grateful to see yourself becoming the kind of parent every child deserves.

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