We dread them, we hate them, we get thrown off our game when they happen.…
What do we really know about the impact of spanking children?
80% of the world’s children are spanked.
Think about that.
80% of the world’s children are spanked!
This is based on research conducted worldwide by Unicef in 2014.
By most of the world’s population, physically hurting children is an accepted means of “disciplining” them.
And as we look at the state of the world, we can see that spanking children has resulted in a happy, healthy, non-violent, peaceful world – NOT!
So, is what most of the world doing really working?
Does it matter whether or not you spank your children?
Based on worldwide statistics, most of today’s parents were spanked as children. Some parents say, “Well I was spanked and I turned out ok.” while others say “I was spanked as a child and I will never do that to my children.”
What do we really know about the impact of spanking?
Recently, the most comprehensive study on the impact of spanking was completed. And, as a coach for parents of young children, I actually purchased and downloaded the study. (here’s the link)
The study reviewed every other study on child spanking done in the world. It carefully separated out “spanking” from beating and other forms of physical abuse. (spanking – defined as an open hand used either on the child’s bottom or their hands or face.)
To be more specific they were looking at “the use of physical force with the intention of causing a child to experience pain but not injury for the purposes of correction or control of the child’s behaviour.”
It also separated out poorly done studies from the most thorough, carefully researched studies.
They also reviewed studies where parents who spank their children were enrolled in programs to learn other positive methods of parenting, to see if the outcomes for their children changed. (Yes, the outcomes did, and they also found that the children’s behaviour improved significantly once spanking was stopped and other non-violent discipline approaches were used.)
So what did this research project find?
The upshot of the study is that “spanking increases the likelihood of a wide variety of undesired outcomes for children…Spanking thus does the opposite of what parents usually want it to do.”
In fact, they did not find any studies that demonstrated any benefits of spanking.
What were the “detrimental outcomes” that they found in children who were spanked, compared to those who were not spanked?
- More aggression.
- More anti-social behaviour.
- More defiance.
- More “externalizing problems” – lashing outward at others by aggression, violence, bullying, defiant and criminal behaviours.
- More “internalizing problems” – actions that are taken toward the self; a child may hurt him or herself rather than lash out at others. Some symptoms of internalizing problems are depression, anxiety, substance abuse and withdrawal.
- More mental health issues.
- More negative relationships with parents.
- Lower “moral internalization” – moral internalization means the child has incorporated the parent’s moral views into their own. The child is not dependent on an external authority or fear of punishment to behave in a moral way. In other words, when you aren’t there, your child will lack the inner self-control to behave well.
- Lower cognitive ability – the ability to learn.
- Lower self-esteem.
- Higher risk for actual physical abuse (the more often a parent spanks a child, the higher the risk of the parent becoming even more violent or abusive.)
- Higher risk of becoming an abused adult.
- Greater anti-social behaviour in adulthood.
- Greater mental health problems in adulthood.
- Support for physical punishment in adulthood – people who were spanked tend to believe in spanking and perpetuate it through the generations.
Does this mean that every child who is spanked will experience these problems? No.
Does it mean that if you lose your cool every once in awhile and give your child a smack on the behind that they will develop all these problems? No.
But, it does mean that if spanking is one of your major forms of discipline, you may be putting your child at risk as well as your relationship with your child at risk. And the problems they develop may put others at risk as well too.
When you think about it, it is very emotionally confusing for a child to have the people they love and depend on for safety and security, turn on them with their physical size and might and purposely hurt them.
Spanking a child delivers the message: it’s okay for people to use violence to get their way, and it’s okay for bigger people to take their anger and frustration out on smaller, weaker people and hurt them.
And, more to the point, it is simply not effective in developing well-behaved children.
For many parents, choosing not to spank is scary. What do they do instead?
Remember that discipline means teaching. (search “discipline” on my blog)
There are many many ways to teach children how to act and how to behave without using your size and strength to intimidate. Connecting with them, using times of “misbehaviour” as opportunities for learning how they should behave, are approaches that work well.
Your greatest discipline technique is a warm and close relationship with your children where they naturally look to you for guidance and support when they are losing control.
The opposite of spanking is not being a “passive hands-off” or permissive parent. Permissiveness also has negative outcomes for children. Children need a “container” of safety, protection, limits, boundaries, and love.
If you were raised with spanking, when you are upset with your child, you may by ”default”, go with what you know. That makes sense because most of us naturally parent the way we were parented.
But It takes awareness, knowledge and the conscious decision to do things differently in order to not go into “default” parenting.
As I mentioned above, the study found that parenting education courses that offer non-violent, positive parenting techniques really do change parents behaviour and result in better-behaved children.
If you want to learn positive alternatives to spanking, check out programs in your community like Nobody’s Perfect, Community Service Parenting programs, or programs offered by preschools, daycares and schools. There are also excellent online parenting programs offered by experts such as Gordon Neufeld and The Great Parenting Show.
Eliminating physical punishment would be a big step to raising a generation with kindness.
As a very wise psychotherapist once told me, “If just one whole generation worldwide were raised with kindness, all the world’s problems would be solved.”
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