Depending on where you live in the United States, spankings and other types of aversionary discipline, such as yelling or shaming, may be fairly common. In other areas, punishments like this are on the decline, which is a good thing. For about two decades, the American Academy of Pediatrics has urged parents to use caution when disciplining their kids with these types of punishment tactics – especially spanking. Recently, the organization updated its recommendation: Don’t spank your kids. Ever.
No Long-term Benefit
While parents might find short-term benefit in spanking their children (oftentimes the behavior they want to correct will stop as soon as the spanking starts), research has found that this type of corrective action does little to curb the unwanted behavior in the future. Actually, a study conducted into the effects of corporal (physical) punishment found that within 10 minutes of receiving corporal punishment, 73 percent of the children involved had resumed the behavior that provoked the punishment. In fact, we often find that spankings will prompt the child to continue the behavior in a more secretive way.
It Can Harm Them Developmentally
Studies conducted over the past two decades have found evidence that spanking children can harm them developmentally in the long run. According to one study:
- Corporal punishment of children younger than 18 months increases the likelihood of physical injury.
- Repeated use of corporal punishment may lead to aggressive behavior.
- Negative parent-child relationships as a result of corporal punishment are possible;
- Preschool and school-aged children who receive corporal punishment have higher instances of aggressive behavior and aggression in general.
- Corporal punishment makes it more, not less, likely that children will be defiant and aggressive in the future.
- Corporal punishment is associated with an increased risk of mental health disorders and cognition problems
- The risk of harsh punishment is increased when the family is experiencing stressors, such as family economic challenges, mental health problems, intimate partner violence, or substance abuse
- Spanking alone is associated with adverse outcomes, and these outcomes are similar to those in children who experience physical abuse
Research found that spanking can actually alter the architecture of the brain and cause issues with vocabulary, memory, aggression, stress, and anxiety later in life.
Effective Punishment Options
just saying these things can be accomplished without corporal punishment, shaming, or verbal abuse. It’s easy for someone to say, “reason with them” when they’re not the one dealing with a 2-year-old’s tantrum. The truth is, reasoning with them is a really good start, but we all know that it won’t always work. If this is the case, time out – a minute for every year of life – is typically effective. If you’re still having trouble, taking away privileges or toys they like is effective. Try this escalating punishment tactic and see how it goes – if you need more advice, talk with your pediatrician or a licensed therapist, but the bottom line is that spanking shouldn’t even be considered a last-resort option now that we know how it can affect your children.
Dr. Black is a board-certified pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Cypress Clinic and The Vintage Clinic. Her clinical interests include nutrition, newborn care, and preventive care. She’s the author of the book “God Made You Great.”