For more than 10 years, I’ve worked with families who come in to see me while (because of) experiencing childhood behavioral challenges. Over the years, I’ve handled parents’ questions about spanking in different ways as a Therapist. As my experience and expertise in this field have grown, my opinions and recommendations about corporal punishment have become more and more bold.
Corporal punishment has never “set well” with me, from a theoretical standpoint. And it just feels wrong, from a person standpoint. Let’s stop and think about it for a minute. An adult, with a fully developed brain, who is much bigger and stronger than a child is intentionally physically hurting a child, who has a developing brain not yet capable of rational thinking, to correct a behavior with which the adult is dissatisfied about. What?! That doesn’t make sense to me. If an adult physically harmed another adult, this would warrant an assault charge. Children are people too, and it’s about time our parenting approaches reflected that.
We are the grownups. We are the ones who are older and wiser. With our fully developed brains, we have the ability to manage impulses, think about the consequences of our choices, utilize calming and coping strategies, and make better choices. We need to remember this as we choose parenting approaches with our growing children. How can we expect them to practice the skills of managing emotions and making thoughtful decisions when we parent out of impulsive anger?
As a young Therapist, I discouraged spanking with families with which I worked for one clear reason, I would say: “I can’t recommend spanking as a consequence for non-preferred behavior because I never know when a parent could go too far. For that reason, I recommend alternative ways to address behavioral challenges.”
At this point in my career, however, I am clear with the families with whom I work that I discourage any and all forms of corporal punishment for one reason alone: research says that not only is it not effective, but it is actually harmful to children. I believe that the many parents that experience discomfort in providing corporal punishment to their children have known what researchers are now proving: that corporal punishment is wrong for our children.
On May 6, 2019, in the journal Pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatrics made a statement that parents should not spank, hit or slap their children. The AAP’s recent statement is more specific than previous recommendations to use alternative disciplines over spanking. In order for the AAP to make a formal statement or recommendation about something, years of research is needed to back up their recommendation. Hear that again: years of research have proven that parents should not spank, hit or slap their children because of the negative effects it causes in children.
Sometimes I hear concerns from parents that their child won’t “respect” them if they withhold spanking. My concern is that if a child experiences spanking, they are likely not demonstrating “respect” for that parent when making decisions; they are likely demonstrating fear. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather my child learn how to make decisions based on thoughtful reflection and respect versus fearfulness of me. Utilizing alternative disciplines fosters connection between a parent and child versus a disconnection, like spanking does. It also encourages other skills children benefit from learning at younger ages, like considering consequences for our decisions, problem solving, and developing empathy.
I was spanked as a kid, and yes, I “turned out just fine.” Actually, I like to think I turned out better than just “fine.” Do I think my parents were bad parents? Absolutely not! I think my parents were wonderful parents, and I believe they parented in ways that represented the time in which they raised me and to the best of their abilities. In fact, I’m sure they followed every recommendation my pediatrician offered to them. They wanted the best for me and my siblings!
But we evolve, people! As our society learns more and more about what’s best, based on fine-tuned research studies and science, we make changes to our lifestyles that promote growth, health, and longevity. This is why our lifespans have gotten longer! As research has proven better ways to live, we have adjusted our lifestyles according to those findings. This is why we wear skin and eye protection from the sun, eat our vegetables, wear our seatbelts, take antibiotics to get over infections and strive for overall healthy lifestyles. All of these things have been proven (through years of research and science) to be better for our health. Based on that research, doctors make recommendations, and mostly, we follow them!
So now, we have a new recommendation from our doctors: don’t spank your kids! I find it peculiar that some parents follow their pediatrician’s recommendations religiously but seem to have a hard time with their recent recommendation about not spanking. I think it may have something to do with the fact that this is a recommendation for “emotional health” versus “physical health.” Your pediatrician is an expert on the overall health of children (physical, mental, and emotional). We are more than just our physical bodies. One system of health impacts another. Actually, some of the research I’ve read over the years about spanking actually links spanking with things like lower self esteem, lower school performance, greater likelihood for depression, and increased physical health issues. So for you parents out there who really need a reason to stop spanking based on “physical health,” there ya go.
If you’d like to read more about the effects of spanking and some of the research surrounding this topic, here’s some good starting points:
- An article posted way back in 2002 by the American Psychological Association: here.
- An article posted in May of 2019 about the AAP’s new stance against Spanking: here.
- An article posted in 2017 about the research-proven negative effects of harsh parenting: here.
Maybe you use spanking because you don’t know how to discipline any differently. There are so many resources out there that offer different parenting approaches to challenging childhood behaviors. In fact, I’ve got many listed here. My favorites are pretty much anything by Dr. Daniel Seigel, such as The Whole Brain Child and the follow up to that book, No Drama Discipline. I’m also a fan of Dr. Jane Nelsen’s Positive Discipline, and one of the newest members of our team, Bridget Morgan, is a Parenting Coach for this model. If you’d like support in parenting in a more intentional and conscious way, give us a call! We’d love to help you and your family create a discipline model for your home that you’re comfortable with and that utilizes healthier options than corporal punishment.