According to polls, 70% of American parents believe that children need an occasional spanking. At the same time, it is banned in over 30 countries. Does spanking really harm children?
Evidence against spankingOne thing should be made clear: spanking is a very precise term that means a tap with an open hand on the buttocks or extremities that does not leave bruises or cause other bodily harm. Clearly, hitting children with objects or beatings must be banned (and they are in Western countries). However, such places as Sweden, France, and Scotland have completely banned spanking in public and at hom, and in New Zealand it is even forbidden to restrain children by firmly holding them. In the U.S., spanking is legal, and over 50% of parents use it. Is there evidence that it causes harm later in life? According to many studies (including this recent one), spanking does lead to negative consequences, especially to violent behaviour later in life. Apparently, those children who are physically punished tend to get abusive with their partners. Other research indicates that kids who are spanked are more likely to get into fights or hit their siblings and, in turn, spank their own children when they grow up. These findings are cited by child rights activists to promote a full ban on spanking.
Flawed researchNot all researchers agree, however. Many point to flaws in the studies themselves, claiming that in most cases, spanking is not separated from much more abusive forms of physical punishment. Further, findings are mostly correlational – that is, they prove that spanking and violence often go together, but not that one is the cause of the other. Indeed, few attempts are made to distinguish kids who behave badly because they are spanked from those who are spanked because they behave badly. Moreover, some researchers actually found that kids that are spanked at an early age tend to perform better in school and have more successful careers (see here for more info). However, most scholars agree that even if spanking does not harm children when used infrequently and with a clear purpose, it is far from the most efficient disciplinary measure.
Alternatives to spankingWhile it may seem like an easy answer to spank a misbehaving child – especially when parents are tired, and the bad behavior continues for a long time – psychologists suggest other courses of action:
- Stay calm, don’t get too emotional or shout;
- Tell the kid what they have to do in a clear way instead of telling them what they must not do (Such order as “Do not make noise” don’t work – use “Keep quiet” instead).
- Praise good behaviour instead of punishing bad behaviour – it is a much more efficient method; when often punished, kids often simply learn to hide their misbehaviour to avoid punishment;
- Teach your children to use words instead of undesirable actions like hitting, shouting, etc.; explain to them the names of main emotions (anger, disappointment, frustration etc.) and encourage them to explain how they feel;
- Explain why some behaviours are acceptabe and others are not (dangerous, disruptive or hurting to others, etc.)
- If you have to use punishment (time-outs, taking away a toy, and so on), make sure it immediately follows bad behaviour, and take care that the child clearly sees the connection;
- Be a good role model – do not shout and fight with your partner, be calm and polite with all the members of the family.
It may take some time and effort to introduce these methods into your daily routine, but the effort is worth it – you can build a stronger relationship with your kids, teach them to be more mature and independent, and save yourself a lot of pain and disappointment in the future.
What Science Says—and Doesn’t—about Spanking – ScientificAmerican.com
Research on Disciplinary Spanking is Misleading – Acpeds.org