To Spank or Not To Spank

by drlazarus on February 10, 2013

Let’s face it: Effective parenting is tough. While it definitely offers amazing and wonderful rewards, the day-to-day challenges can feel exhausting and exhilarating – sometimes even all at once!

Learning effective parenting skills takes time, and it’s often a process of trial and error. One issue that many parents agonize over, and many child development researchers disagree on, is spanking.

Every child — and every family situation – is different, so there’s no universal “right” answer when it comes to deciding whether or not to spank. Further, attitudes toward corporal punishment vary based on a range of social and cultural factors, such as nationality, ethnicity, and religion. In fact, 31 countries have passed legislation completely banning corporal punishment, even in the home, and 70 other nations ban spanking in schools. In the U.S., 31 states have laws banning in-school corporal punishment. However, in-home corporal punishment, defined as “the use of physical force with the intention to cause a child to experience pain, but not injury, for the purpose of correction or the control of the child’s behavior — isn’t illegal.

If you can’t decide whether you adhere to the theory of “spare the rod, spoil the child” or prefer to take a gentler approach, here are a few ideas for consideration in effective parenting.

Why Spank?

Parents spank for many reasons. Some were spanked by their own parents. Others spank because it offers immediate results or because it’s simply the easiest option.

A 2010 study found that kids who were spanked before age six performed better in school and are more likely to go to college. However, the study also found that kids who were spanked after age six were more likely to exhibit behavioral problems.

Why Not Spank?

Most research shows that spanking has more negative than positive results. Multiple studies show that children who are spanked regularly tend to:

  • Be more aggressive toward their peers, family and future spouse and children
  • Believe that hitting is a solution to problems
  • Have a difficult time regulating themselves
  • Be at higher risk for low self-esteem, depression, anger, isolation, alcoholism, dependence and abusiveness

Effective Parenting Alternatives to Spanking

As an alternative to spanking, consider trying redirection and discipline first and viewing corporal punishment as a last resort. Ideas include:

  • Communicate with your child; ask them why they engaged in the misbehavior and really listen to their answer
  • Talk with your child rather than hitting; explain why the behavior is unacceptable or unsafe
  • Set a positive example; act the way you want your child to act
  • Focus on what your child does right; positive reinforcement, such as praise and rewards, has been proven to affect behavior more than punishment

If you’re struggling with the parenting issues and how  effective parent, talking to a child psychologist may help.

Dr. Steven Lazarus is a licensed child psychologist in Littleton, Colorado.  He can help your family work through issues together.

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