Why you shouldn't spank your child

sad kidLast week, a Duke University study published in Child Development concluded that spanking has detrimental effects on the behavior and mental development of children. The researchers found that children who were spanked as 1-year-olds tended to behave more aggressively at age 2, and didn’t perform as well as other children on a test measuring thinking skills at age 3.

Here, Children’s Hospital Boston’s Jayne Singer, PhD, clinical director of the Child and Parent Program and a clinical psychologist for the Brazelton Touchpoints Center, weighs in on the spanking study and offers her professional views on the subject.

The results of the study make sense. Spanking a child does show the child that the  parent is bigger and stronger and can take control of the child. But, it doesn’t show the child how to learn to develop  control of themselves. Spanking may stop the child then and there, but there’s a cost emotionally and cognitively to a child, and over the long run, it doesn’t usually lead to the child learning not to repeat the behavior that resulted in the spanking in the first place. It can also lead to the child learning to behave because of fear, not because of respect.

I’d like to suggest that the real issue is how we think about discipline. If we move away from the idea of discipline as a punishment, we can think about discipline as teaching the child by using necessary limit setting as well as praising desired ways of being. Young children need to learn how to gain control of themselves and how to respect the limits of other people. Spanking may stop a behavior  in the moment, but it isn’t how a child actually learns to control his or her own actions.

Infants and toddlers learn more from behavior that’s modeled for them than anything else. Spanking results in them being  afraid—and that hitting is the way you handle conflict. It’s pretty scary for children to be spanked. Parents don’t need to use discipline as punishment. Instead, send a message to your child such as, “I love you and I can’t let you do that.” Even if this results in a time out and a tantrum, the child is learning more from the experience than if they are in physical pain or discomfort. Even the tantrum that results from being told, “no” is an opportunity for the child to learn how to get themselves back under control.

Children can learn best by mimicking their parents’ ability to control themselves, and parents can be models by using calm, firm and neutral discipline. To a child, spanking feels like the parents are out of control and the only reason for them to stop their behavior is that they might be harmed. This doesn’t help children think for themselves.

It’s difficult for young children to differentiate between an adult’s idea of what is right and what is wrong. Cognitively, toddlers don’t understand the difference. Young children also often learn about the world by testing the limits set upon them. This doesn’t mean that they are misbehaving even if they’ve been told many times before not to do something. It takes a long time for children to learn self-control, but it is one of our major goals for all children in early childhood. If given the chance to sit and think about their actions, they learn and become more socialized. Time outs should be used not as a punishment, but an opportunity to stop your child’s unwanted activity and to give them time to think.

Parents are under a lot of pressure from people around them to keep their child under control. I would love for whole communities to be supportive of parents so that parents don’t have to feel so judged for their child’s behavior that is often developmentally typical, and to join parents in the goal of  wanting children to have good emotional experiences.

It takes a long time for a child to learn how to control themselves. We hope that by age 5 there is a greater ability to sense that people other than themselves have needs and that they can stop themselves from doing things that will hurt somebody, not because they are afraid that they will get hurt themselves if they do the “wrong thing”, but because they care about the well-being of other people. These are the foundations of self-esteem and empathy, which we all want children to develop. The skills we want them to have are what are modeled around them: We want them to have the ability to control themselves.

Much of my thinking has been influenced  by working with T. Berry Brazelton, who wrote the book, Discipline the Brazelton Way. It’s based on the kinds of ideas such as thinking of discipline as teaching and not as punishment. This book brings home  ideas that are kind toward both children and parents. In the end, we just want a child to be someone who is able to have healthy relationships, be in control and show empathy.

26 thoughts on “Why you shouldn't spank your child

  1. We’re making progress, but I’m sorry to see that time-out is still being recommended. Whether the parent sees it as punishment or not, the child always will, and punishment of any kind damages essential trust between the parent and child. Please see The Case Against Time-out by Dr. Peter Haiman at http://www.naturalchild.org/guest/peter_haiman.html

    Children behave as well as they are treated.


    Jan Hunt, M.Sc., Director
    Natural Child Project

  2. Wow…have to comment on this. I grew up in Southern, Baptist home where your grandmother owned a “switch tree”, where she would make you select a branch of a tree before “whooping” you for bad behavior.

    All I know is I grew up fearing my grandmother’s wraith and my respect from her came mostly out of fear than love. I think children understand role-modeling of postive behaviors more than they understand the frustrations of a parent or adult.

    Good job, Children’s on giving this topic it’s due voice!

  3. I am one to disagree with this article. Yes, discipline is one way of teaching but children are much smarter than we are giving them credit for. Once they realize that no matter what the wrong-doing is, all they get is an “I love you, and I can’t let you do that”, they will continue to stress the limitations to see what could possibly come next. If children are aware that some sort of punishment will come if they do not control themselves, they are more likely to think about their actions BEFORE they go through with them. Spanking does not need to be violent and harsh, but if children know the possibility of being punished exists, they will stop and think. It will not make them violent, I am not suggesting that spanking or other punishments take place regularly, but remain only as a last resort, and let your child be aware that there is harsher punishment if noncompliance to limitations occurs.

  4. The study concluded that spanking 1 year olds was detrimental to the child’s subsequent development. But why would you spank a 1 yr old to begin with.

    Spanking in a non-violent environment should start no sooner than 2 years of age. Furthermore, in a nonabusive environment where the parent is not frustrated, I surmise that the outcome of spanking would be at the very least equal if not better than telling your kid “I love you sweetie” when they do something wrong.

    Non-abusive spanking, contrary to the misinformation spread about spanking, does not necessitate that the parent spanks all the time. Rather, it is most effective when used in response to repeated or extreme acts of misbehavior. Non-abusive spanking used as a backup and adjunct to parental instruction/discipline is perfectly healthy.

  5. Child buttock-battering vs. DISCIPLINE:

    Child buttock-battering for the purpose of gaining compliance is nothing more than an inherited bad habit.

    Its a good idea for people to take a look at what they are doing, and learn how to DISCIPLINE instead of hit.

    I think the reason why television shows like “Supernanny” and “Dr. Phil” are so popular is because that is precisely what many (not all) people are trying to do.

    There are several reasons why child bottom-slapping isn’t a good idea. Here are some good, quick reads recommended by professionals:

    Plain Talk About Spanking
    by Jordan Riak,

    The Sexual Dangers of Spanking Children
    by Tom Johnson,

    by Lesli Taylor M.D. and Adah Maurer Ph.D.

    Most compelling of all reasons to abandon this worst of all bad habits is the fact that buttock-battering can be unintentional sexual abuse for some children. There is an abundance of educational resources, testimony, documentation, etc available on the subject that can easily be found by doing a little research with the recommended reads-visit http://www.nospank.net.

    Just a handful of those helping to raise awareness of why child bottom-slapping isn’t a good idea:

    American Academy of Pediatrics,
    American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry,
    Center For Effective Discipline,
    PsycHealth Ltd Behavioral Health Professionals,
    Churches’ Network For Non-Violence,
    Nobel Peace Prize recipient Archbishop Desmond Tutu,
    Parenting In Jesus’ Footsteps,
    Global Initiative To End All Corporal Punishment of Children,
    United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

    In 26 countries, child corporal punishment is prohibited by law (with more in process). In fact, the US was the only UN member that did not ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

  6. I thnk spanking is wrong, i would also tie spanking to children get jumpy when someone raises their hands and there speaking problems.

  7. I thnk spanking is wrong, i would also tie spanking to children get jumpy when someone raises their hands and there speaking problems.

  8. There is no doubt that spanking will stop, temporarily, the parent-offending behavior. Decades of well-conducted research show a variety of deleterious results that can last a lifetime—–including the anger in the then grown parent which makes that parent strike his/her child. Rather than speaking from opinion, we need to look to valid and reliable research to guide our child rearing practices.

  9. “Spanking does not need to be violent.” This is oxymoronical, nonsensical double-speak. Spanking is violence of the worst kind because it’s from a parent to their child. Spanking of any kind is taking an unacceptable risk that your child may act out later, like in school against another child. Spanking sets a child up to fail, to fear, to act out, and to avoid their feelings by using substances. Spanking shuts down thinking. So don’t be surprised if your child starts attacking others as you have attacked them. Don’t be surprised when they yell and scream just as you have yelled and screamed. Don’t be surprised when they start getting drunk and stoned. Spanking is always an act of violence. So don’t be surprised when your spanked child acts out in violence – s/he got their coping skills from you.

  10. “Spanking does not need to be violent.” This is oxymoronical, nonsensical double-speak. Spanking is violence of the worst kind because it's from a parent to their child. Spanking of any kind is taking an unacceptable risk that your child may act out later, like in school against another child. Spanking sets a child up to fail, to fear, to act out, and to avoid their feelings by using substances. Spanking shuts down thinking. So don't be surprised if your child starts attacking others as you have attacked them. Don't be surprised when they yell and scream just as you have yelled and screamed. Don't be surprised when they start getting drunk and stoned. Spanking is always an act of violence. So don't be surprised when your spanked child acts out in violence – s/he got their coping skills from you.

  11. I agree with mr mom. Great comment. God bless you for your kind words about children.

  12. I worked at a daycare for almost a year and simply telling a child to listen to you is hopeless. These children would look at you and continue doing what their doing not caring that you told them to stop. Before that I was babysat by my grandmother and she spanked the children she watched and compared to the children at the daycare I worked at, these children were angels after getting spanked, while at the licensed daycare I would want to pull my hair out.

    1. I am sorry but spanking a child to get them to act like an angel is not my idea of teaching or guiding a young child. They are compliant because they are fearful. Surely you must have learned how to redirect a misbehaving child in your place of employment. It is never a good idea to inflict physical pain on a child although i know your grandmother is a product of her time and did what she knew. When you know better, you do better.

  13. I strongly disagree with this article. I was spanked as a child as one of many types of punishments for misbehaviour. I never learned to fear my parents from being spanked, but rather I respected them and learned that there are consequences to my actions, which is an important lesson for everyone to learn. Looking back on my childhood, I can remember that I was spanked, but not any specific occassions because the spanking itself was never as important as the lesson learned from the experience.
    Your study states that people who are spanked will not perform as well on tests measuring thinking skills, but throughout my education I repeatedly scored among the highest in every standardized test. I graduated from high school with 160 high school credits when only 100 were needed for a diploma and I also received credit for 4 university level courses from the Advanced Placement tests. I have now completed my undergraduate degree and will be attending both medical school and graduate studies in the fall. I’m sure you would agree that is quite the achievement for someone who has reduced thinking skills as a result of being spanked so I hope you will concede that spanking as a form of punishment is not as detrimental to a person’s development as you are trying to lead others to believe.

    1. I agree with you completely.These other people are obviously being dramatic.

  14. Well my sister whom is older than me has a 3 year old daughter. When her kid hits here she says you dont ever hit me! Then how can you say that when you spank her, now that is sending her the wrong signal?  I have spanked my daughter then I see it does nothing. I dont want her to grow up hitting others. You cant tell your kids not to hit you then turn around and do it to them. Thats not right and it will confuse them. Im going to go 4 the time out method

  15. I agree totally.  Why on earth any normal, kind gentle person would think hitting a child is ‘ok’ and even ‘right’ .. is way beyond me.  After all, if  we are all still capable of learning at any age, and we are, why don’t we have hitting as part of our lifestyle ?  eg .. the policeman who hits you for running a red… or non payment of a bill?  Of course, he would also have to be 12 feet tall … and 3 – 5 times you weight too.   

    Spanking… hitting a child is so wrong.  Just because some children aren’t ‘damaged’ by it .. doesn’t mean they all aren’t.  I was a quiet child, and it taught me many things.  Like fear, pain, anger, hate and resentment.  That my parents didn’t love me, and no explaining in the post spanking pep talk ‘oh we love you ‘ never meant a thing to me – after all they had just HIT me .. something even I didn’t do to others !  They lost my love, respect and trust.  Why would anyone respect or trust someone who hits them ??  It destroyed my relationship with my parents, it destroyed a lot of my childhood and I am angry about that.

    I am a grandmother now – and never spanked my children, who are now fine, gentle adults.  My grandchildren are a delight .. and unspanked too. 

    I can’t even understand the thought that it’s ok to hit a defenceless child, when adults, criminals and animals are all safe from assault!

     @Gene .. spanking IS harsh and it IS violent.  If I did it to you I would be arrested.   Children are wired to learn .. in ways that parents and often society doesn’t like much .. and parents are there to TEACH a child, to help it grow up into a responsible adult, not hit it because you can.  Because you believe that it’s fine to hit a child, but not an adult!  Why would I have wanted to hit my child, teaching it nothing but how to avoid being hit, and not the lesson?  Why would I want to show it violence?  Why would I want to show it how to act out a violent act when they don’t like/approve of certain behaviour??   Stop and think ??  Think of what ??  Their loving parent .. the one who should be protecting them hurting them .. on PURPOSE??…  I have no understanding of that way of thinking thank goodness.  
     Hitting children should be left in history where it belongs… like wife beating and rape and buggery of tiny children in Ancient Rome !

  16. I strongly agree with this article, especially where it says children learn to fear their parents rather than love them. I was spanked (or rather smacked) as a child and live with the consequences to this day. Here are some of the ways spanking clearly didn’t work:

    1 – I didn’t learn the lessons. One of the frequent (key word there) reasons I was smacked was for getting caught lying. That taught me to become a better liar, and I got very good at it. Why go to such lengths? Because telling the truth would most likely have resulted in getting smacked. It’s a vicious cycle where nobody wins. 

    2 – It did escalate. What started as some light smacking on the arm, escalated to smacking in the face, hard. The last time my father laid a hand on me he blew open my eardrum.

    3 – I did end up excelling as a student (except in highschool where I gave up on myself completely), but not because I wanted to make my parents proud, or I believed I was doing it for my own good, but because I feared what would happen if I didn’t do well.

    4 – I smacked my younger sister whenever she ‘misbehaved’ or I disagreed with her. Where on earth did I learn to do that? 

    4 – I don’t love my parents. It might shock some of you to read that, but it is true. I’m not incapable of love – the people I do love, I love wholeheartedly, and I would do anything for them. My parents are decent people, they are good friends and citizens, they tended to every one of my material needs growing up, and I understand why they are the people that they are. However, years of feeling nothing but fear, helplessness and betrayal for as long as I can remember has left a gaping abyss between us, and it is taking a hell of a long time to bridge that gap. Why on earth would you love, trust, confide in or respect someone who is a source of pain in your life?

    5 – Years of physical punishment and emotional abuse made me put up walls, and eventually pushed me over the edge. I pretty much gave up on myself and gave up on life. In highschool I ended up drinking hard, getting close to failing school, plunging into depression and nearly ending my own life. It took a long time to crawl out of that hole and begin to thrive. It took me nearly a decade to bring those walls down and I still have issues with that.

    6 – My parents now desperately want to have a close relationship with me but it isn’t working. They are trying hard to make up for what they have done because they realised after all these years of pushing their child away, the result is not what they wanted. ‘I love you’ wasn’t really used while we were growing up, now they make a point of saying it at the end of every phone call. They make sure to tell me they’re proud of me, now that I’m an adult. In either case, I feel nothing. I am almost at a place where I can forgive them completely for what they did, but it is very hard to feel close to someone who has caused you pain in the past.For those proponents of spanking, answer me one question – what would happen to you if you did the same to an adult who isn’t behaving how you’d like them to? Two things come to mind – they’d hit back and/or you’d end up in court. Now, why is it unacceptable to do this to someone your size (who can fight back), and yet it is perfectly fine to do it to a child, who is helpless to fight back and depends on you?

    1. Well written Debbie – and I agree entirely.  My parents too lost my trust and respect – why would anyone respect and trust anyone who hits them ?? !!  

      Hitting a child .. or an adult… or an animal is totally unacceptable.  No-one should be hitting ANYONE.

      1. i agree with both of you as well. i was also spanked when i was a child. like Debbie said, they never used the word love when i was growing up and now i don’t feel anything. now i have two close friends who have never been hit by their parents, one is African American and the other one is white. both great students, one graduated from Santa Monica high school he was #1 student from his year, the other one is on his second year in high school and already in Calculus. Their parents gave them a lot of attention and cared for them since they were babies.

  17. “Spanking in a non-violent environment should start no sooner than 2 years of age.” I assume there is some sort of study behind this information of yours? Can you site this or is it all a poor attempt to justify a wrong thing into a right thing. There is not one thing anyone can say that would make hitting an innocent defenseless child alright. 

  18. The most important thing to remember is that your child is a human being. A vulnerable defenseless human being. Treat them as human beings. Not something you have to dominate; Not something you must rule over for the sake of ego. They are human beings apart from you with complex feelings just like you. If respect is something you want from a child teach them how to give it. Imagine if a giant hit you when you did something they didn’t like. I can guarantee you wouldn’t respect them but you wold most definitely fear them. Respect is not earned by delivering a “controlled spank” or a “loving spank”. It is earned with patience, love and understanding. The next time you want to hit your child or deliver a “loving spank” just try and imagine all the feelings they might feel as your hand lands on their body and then ask yourself if it’s still okay. It’s a disgusting practice and completely unnecessary. There are other ways to deal with young human beings.

  19. This article is bull all childeren first and foremost are different.They all deal with things differently. Of course if this is a study not facts its not bad to spank your kids it is bad to allow them to listen to bad music and movies with voilence. You people should be more inrerested in other things and putting a stop on horrible shows,all this nudity and drug use on tv.Stop saying gay is not wrong when it is filthy and wrong. Than jumping into conclusions when a good parent is punishing their kid.All kids sometimes need a spanking its not abise you want to talk about abuse..see how many friends you have abusing alcohol and drugs and help them out.

  20. OMG Debbie get real. There is a difference between a smack on the bum and an abusive adult rupturing an ear drum with a whack in the head. I smacked my children when they misbehaved and they are great kids and tell me everyday they love me as I do to them.

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