Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Why Spanking Is Harmful

It seems that a week can't go by where there isn't some thread on a public page on Facebook where people are voraciously arguing over Corporal Punishment.  From what I have gathered those for it are in the minority. You might not know it, based on their reactions, but I always find that to be a good indication of how valid one really think their opinion is. If I know my actions are noble I won't feel the need to get over the top defensive if someone doesn't agree with me. I don't need them to tell me I am right, or agree with me to feel validated. If I feel confident in my own decision, then I will be able to have a civil debate about why I think the way I do and be okay if I can't sway the other party to my 'side' as it were.

So, what does science say about spanking? One recent study showed a clear association with

 "the proportion of illnesses such as depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug abuse as well as personality disorders that may be attributable to physical punishment".

 Another states
" Despite American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations to the contrary, most parents in the United States approve of and have used CP as a form of child discipline. The current findings suggest that even minor forms of CP, such as spanking, increase risk for increased child aggressive behavior. Importantly, these findings cannot be attributed to possible confounding effects of a host of other maternal parenting risk factors."

Those are just a couple of the studies that have shown that spanking isn't beneficial to any child for any reason, for any age. I can't find one study that says it is. If you have one, please share it with me. The interesting thing to me is, even though it is not recommended by any expert that knows anything about child development, the studies say parents continue to do it anyway.  This leads me to believe that we don't have enough information and know how to discipline differently. As humans we do what we know, even if it's not effective. We're creatures of habit and tradition.

My other issue with hitting kids (and make no mistake anytime you spank your child it IS by definition hitting them) is that it's illegal to hit anyone else, so why are children not afforded the same right?  If your spouse, neighbor, or waiter pisses you off you aren't allowed to hit them. Even if they lie to you, steal your stuff, or otherwise do something off the wall morally wrong. You are not allowed by law to hit them unless it's to defend yourself from harm. If you do, you can be arrested for assault. So, why is it okay to hit a little defenseless person?  What if you do it just enough to hurt them, and teach that neighbor of yours you mean business? Is that legal? No. So why is it legal to do it to a child. Hitting is hitting.

Before, all of you think that I am on my high horse, I will admit to using spanking a handful of times with my 2 oldest. I stopped, because it seemed not only ineffective, but it seemed to make their behavior worse. I set out to find another way. 

Different things work for different kids. All kids respond to some form of positive behavior reinforcement . Maybe, some need more redirection, frequent rewards and support than others, but they all respond to it.  No matter how stubborn, ornery, or different you think your child is, I guarantee you they will respond to some sort of positive behavior plan.  Everyone does. When we don't go to work our boss doesn't come over to our house and hit us. We simply pay the natural consequences of that decision.  I try to mirror that as much as I can with my kids. I try to relate any punishment or reward to the actual behavior itself.  If they don't do their chores, they won't get their stars on their chart, and they won't have money. The same with if we don't earn income. I don't buy them a lot of stuff. If they want toys and games, they have to earn it themselves. They don't throw fits at the store, because unless it's a special occasion they aren't expecting a toy. When I say no, I mean no. Every time, always. You throw a fit about my answer, you lose privileges. Consistently. I don't yell.  I don't threaten. I state my expectation and they know I mean what I am saying, because I am consistent in following through.  A lot of the time I see kids having bad behavior, because the parents reinforce it. Do you go back on previous no's, because you don't want to hear the whining? Do you let your child behave badly until you finally explode and yell, instead of getting the situation taken care of immediately?  Are you inconsistent on rules? Letting them sometimes do things that are against the rules, because it's easier for you in that moment, than to exert the energy to correct them?  When they fail to do something in real life, say at school, do you rush to bail them out, or do you let them handle the consequences of their own behaviors?

Conversely, when your children do something right, do you tell them? Eg; "great job making your bed, getting a good grade, helping a friend.."
Do you always stand up for them when it's warranted showing them that you have their back? Eg; The school is treating your special needs child in a way that is unfair, so you put your own feelings of shyness, busyness, ect... aside and take care of the matter.
Do you allow them times and space to be them, instead of micromanaging their time and activities?  Eg; allowing them time to watch tv and be on the computer without huge time constraints,  ect...
Do you allow them the individual freedom to choose, even if it's you don't agree with their decision (age appropriately, of course)? Eg; Allowing them to choose their own fashion, sports, friends, ect..

These are all examples of fostering a child's well being in a sense that allows them to feel good about themselves, and the world around them. When a child feels safe, secure and grounded they have the better tools to choose their behavior, rather than going on a series of impulsive reactions.

So, what is your preferred method of discipline? (Please note that I won't delete any comments, but I also won't respond to nasty ones, either)

And above all, please remember:

Punish the behavior, not the child!


  1. im totally on board with this.
    i find it hysterical when i talk to someone who was spanked and they claim they "turned out just fine" - but they suffer from all sorts of emotional and psychological issues such as addiction, depression, anxiety, and also damaged family bonds/disfunctional family, bullying (either receiving or giving), rebellion starting from childhood or from age 18 (or even worse, leaving home before 18!)... i mean, how can you sit there and tell me spanking did you all sorts of good, yet you are drowning your pains and sorrows in addiction and depression and the like?

    and especially for Christians? i mean, how many adults today equate God with their own parents? that God is stern, punishing, and "teaching you a lesson" when something bad happens in life? so many! and how many people arent even Christian at all because the love was never honestly modeled at home, just the discipline. of course, that way, we think of God as a disciplinarian instead of a loving parent.

    again, i find it just awefully ironic how these people will tout how Biblical it is to spank, yet how unBiblical their own lives are. this is a Christian problem all over even without spanking, but if you support spanking because its Biblical, and dont even crack the Bible open once in a while, or treat people in a Christianlike manner.... what little difference it makes to spank for Biblical reasons when you arent even living Biblically...
    does that make sense? its like, you "follow God" by spanking because you think the Bible says to (which it doesnt), but you dont even live following God in any other way? absolute garbage!

    1. You bring up a lot of good points about people claiming to be fine, but in reality dysfunctional in some way or another.

      I'm an atheist, so any person debating me that cites the bible as their source automatically loses. The bible is not science, so therefore cannot be used to prove a point in a debate. My moral compass is independent of a deity or rewards or punishment that may or may not be doled out to me in an afterlife. I don't hit small children, because I have found through logic that not only does it not work, but it damages the well being of the child, therefore I find it unethical and immoral.

      Thanks for your comments. I appreciated reading them!

  2. I think it's particularly telling that I don't remember WHY I was spanked, only that I was.

    I never wanted to spank my kids. I have though. I have reached a point in a few serious situations with my youngest where I spanked because I could not get his attention otherwise. And oh boy, have I regretted it. I hated doing it and I apologised to them afterwards.

    The only reason a person would spank a child is because are frustrated and feel they feel they have run out of options. That doesn't justify it. I have seen advocates of spanking say "You shouldn't spank in anger". Well why would you spank then? Surely you can find another way.

    I agree that positive behavioural reinforcement works wonders. It really does. It takes some time and practise to be on the ball and noticing the many good little things they do but it is amazing how helpful it is.

    1. I remember why I was spanked sometimes, but not always. I have also wondered the same thing about the 'spanking in anger' statements. It seems odd to me that one would go around hitting anyone when calm and completely rational. If one was cool, collected and rational then you would surely have the wits about you, as an adult with lots of experience in the world,to come up with a better plan than smacking people.

      You're right. It does take a lot of practice and support to implement positive behavior reinforcement. It is something that I find most young, new parents know nothing about. They are not given the tools the do any better. I wasn't going to go into all that originally when I was writing this post, but then I thought to myself , what good does it do to condemn people's way of discipline their children without offering them an alternative? Most people are doing the best they can with what knowledge they have.

  3. Sorry for all the typos in that comment. What a mess! I should have edited it properly.

  4. I always followed my instinct on this: when a child is hit by an adult, they learn 3 things. A: Hitting is allowed for people who are bigger than you, older than you, and have charge of you. B: Hitting is an appropriate way to get attention. C: Reacting by hitting is okay as long as the other person did something you think was wrong.
    It is nice to see that the research backs up my instincts on this. Thanks for the article.

  5. I was hit a lot as a child by a very angry, out of control mother, who herself was beaten a lot as a child. I think there is a generational legacy of passing down what was done to you as a child. I was later diagnosed as on the autistic spectrum and as acutely sensitive. When my two children were small, I never hit my first child, a daughter who was very easy to manage. My son however was quite difficult and I did spank him a couple of times, (even though I had vowed to myself I would never do to a child what was done to me), it only increased my shame but it also showed me that I was conditioned to do this and I had great difficulty in stopping. I managed to only because I read a lot of self help books about child abuse and codependency and once I understood where my own reactions were coming from I was able to not give in to these quite powerful compulsions to do what was done to me. I have a history of depression, anxiety and addictions, which I know now came from the abuse I suffered as a child. So I agree wholeheartedly with all of the above and would also like to say that whilst educating new parents is very good at preventing spanking by giving them alternatives, some new parents were so traumatised as children themselves that they may also suffer with a compulsion to repeat what was done to them and so would need, in my opinion, more than education, they would also need therapy to enable them to work through their trauma so as to understand where their true issues are which lead them to feel its ok to hit, even if intellectually they know its not ok!

    1. I agree. I think it's telling that intellectually we know that hitting another person is always wrong (barring self-defense of course) but we do it anyway. I think therapy is in order for alot of people who were raised without much support and love. Emotions can take over in a quick hurry and make us behave on ways that we would never do in a rational, calm moment. I think that basic emotional skills ought to be taught in school, just like they do health class. Emotional well being is very important part of life.

  6. Unfortunately in my culture spanking is still accepted and seen as a good and necessary thing. I am a member of one forum where the people often speak about spanking their kids. Yesterday it upset me so much that I had to say something. I did not want to get into a debate about spanking itself, that can turn ugly, and I do not have the emotional energy for it. I just told them in a respectful manner that the discussions about spankings and soap and pepper in the kids' mouths etc make me feel sad, it upsets me. But even this was not taken well. My words were twisted, and I was told I was the one with the problem, that I cannot accept differences. Sigh... I was rather stunned by one woman's response - she basically told me that she could think of no reason why people should not talk about things that upset me, and then added that she is worried about how I am upsetting the poor spanking parents by sharing my feelings. How on earth does one reply to that? The whole conversation just saddened me even more, but I am glad that I was brave enough to have said what I said.

    1. I'm glad you were too. I usually tell people that if they can find me one good scientifically based study that proves spanking is a useful tool in rearing children, then I'll be quiet. I am usually completely ignored, which is telling me that they only want to fight with emotions, not facts, because they know they can't win without twisting everything.

  7. My dad has mentioned a few times that a spanking might teach my son a lesson, but I told him every time that my husband and me parent without hitting! we don't need the spanking! My dad doesn't say it anymore because he sees we are very consistent in our parenting and it is paying off. No is no!

    1. It's good that your dad backed off and let you parent how you feel is best. I think consistency is really important for kids. Thanks for your comment!

  8. I also find spanking ineffective for my son plus I also find I don't like the person I become when I spank him. Almost like committing a violent act makes me a more violent person. I agree with what you said in the rest of the post on better ways to reinforce positive behaviours. However, what do you do when you're on a short fuse yourself that day and find it hard to remain calm and consistent?

    1. That's a hard one! Some days we just do what we can to get by. Meaning, maybe if we know we don't have the wherewithal to follow through with a no, then don't say it. I admit, that times where I am totally stressed, I let my kids get by with more. Since, I find that rescinding sending a bad message, I sometimes will consider very carefully if I'm up for the possible fit a no may cause before answering. We're only human!

  9. A very interesting - and important - post. I know I was spanked once or twice as a child, before my parents figured out a better way to deal with misbehaviour was "go to your room for time-out" (well, for me it became "go to the dining room for time-out" when they realized that I had a library of books in my room, so it wasn't really a punishment... not that I honestly got punished often). But yes, consistency *is* very important, and I'm definitely seeing that now with my nieces and nephew.

    Both my siblings who are parents got from my parents that consistency was necessary - when you communicate something about behaviour to a child, you set up an expectation; and in this it doesn't matter whether we're talking NT or ASD child. As long as there's a way to communicate that the child understands, you're setting the expectation that "this is proper behaviour, and if you disobey / defy this expectation, there *will* be consequences".

    I know that for a while there were problems with my older niece's father not understanding that - she would get punished by being sent to her room for time-out for hitting her mother, and he'd go in and spend time with her, which was turning her into a *real* brat - but he has long since come around, and her behaviour improved immensely as a result. And with my younger niece, she knows the rules at her parents and at Granny and Grampers's, and while she occasionally pushes my mother if she's having a bad day (which doesn't happen often) or if she's overtired, Mom is very consistent in enforcing the rules. (Getting scolded - or even having it pointed out that she was told no - is generally followed by a sulk, but she doesn't lash out and subsequently obeys, so....)

    Not that I will ever have children (as I mentioned in another post, with my sensory issues I could never tolerate the noise a child produces, and I am also a person who needs a lot of solitude - which is not good for a child who would need attention from its mother!); but watching how those siblings and my parents deal with my nieces and nephews (and remembering back to the vast majority of my childhood), I *definitely* agree that consistency is key, and that compassion / understanding is a better rule to follow than anger. (Which is part of the reason I think Mom was the one who punished us, other than the fact that she was the one doing most of the raising of us - my dad is likely on the spectrum, as we have recently discovered, and was quite often busy with work, plus he has a slow-growing but volcanic temper. Not that he was abused - at least, not by adults in his life, I don't know about bullies - but my ASD doesn't have the same sort of symptoms as his, and I think he had trouble understanding my NT siblings, whether he knew it or not.)

    Anyway, an excellent post for any parent to read, I suspect; including the comments that follow.

    :) tagAught


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