As a psychologist, I’ve never been a fan of the thought of using spanking to modify behaviors. To be honest, even though I’m not a fan of the thought of spanking, I tried it a few times with my daughter. In particular, I used it to try to help my daughter stop hitting. It didn’t help. It was best if I talked to my daughter about how we don’t hit others, because it hurts. Many families have used spanking, however, spanking is starting to be viewed as ineffective and possibly a violation of a child’s a rights.
According to an article by the American Psychological Association, “The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child issued a directive in 2006 calling physical punishment ‘legalized violence against children’ that should be eliminated in all settings…” Also, according to the article, 30 countries have prohibited physical punishment of children in all settings. Dr. Elizabeth Gershoff discusses how this is more of a public education tool rather than attempt to criminalize the behavior of spanking by parents.
Dr. Gershoff wrote a report on the effects of physical punishment. Based on research evidence, this report recommends that parents avoid physical punishment.
So here is why spanking or physical punishment is not effective…
Parents model aggression as a way to handle conflict and stress when they spank a child. Thus, children may be more likely to use hitting as a strategy for handling frustration and conflict with their peers. Spanking may also be related to aggression later in life.
2.Expectations for behaviors
Spanking does not teach the child what is expected of them. For example, if I spanked my daughter for hitting, this doesn’t tell her what she should do instead. I found that she would hit me when I wasn’t understanding what she wanted. So, I would tell her we don’t hit, but we should use words (she wouldn’t use a lot of words, sometimes she’d even just say “this” and point randomly).
3.Fear of parent
Spanking isn’t helpful for building a warm, close, and respectful emotional bond with the parent. It can be confusing for a child, because they seek parents for safety, yet this person inflicts physical pain and possibly causes fear. When spanking crosses into abuse, this can be very detrimental to the brain. When we are stressed (such as when we are spanked), our brain releases cortisol. Excessive amounts of cortisol can be toxic to the brain. In turn, this can actually damage the brain and result in the loss of brain cells. Generally, our brain is processing the spanking as a threat and goes into the “fight or flight” response.
4.Shifts attention away from the child’s behavior
When a parent spanks a child, the child’s attention shifts towards the parent’s behavior. When this happens, children don’t focus on their own behavior and what can be changed. Rather, they are going to turn their attention towards how mean the parent was and how scary that moment might have been.
As parents, we should focus on discipline, which involves teaching our children what is expected of them. Thus, we should teach them appropriate behaviors and strategies for regulating their emotions. Spanking as a main form of discipline are missed opportunities for developing strong, emotional connections with our children.
For ideas on alternatives to spanking, see these posts: