PSYCHOLOGY

To Spank Or Not To Spank? What Experts Have To Say About This Discipline Method, And What You Can Do Instead?

Date October 15, 2018 17:51

Is spanking your child an appropriate discipline method? The arguments about this issue have been around for several decades now, and opinions are still divided.

According to a survey conducted by The Harris Poll in 2013, 4 in 5 Americans (81%) thought spanking their kids is "sometimes appropriate", while 19% said it’s never appropriate. Among those with a child in their household, the figure is almost the same – about 4 in 5 parents (78%) said spanking is sometimes appropriate.

But is spanking really effective in terms of correcting undesired behaviors and building a positive relationship with your child?

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READ ALSO: 19 Kids And All Spanked? The Duggar Family's Discipline Methods Raise Questions

What do pediatricians and child psychologists have to say about the issue?

Although most American parents spank their children from time to time, experts believe it’s not effective, even in the short term. Moreover, psychologists say spanking harms children mentally, which can lead to low self-esteem, depression, aggression, and other psychological issues in adulthood.

T. Berry Brazelton, a renowned pediatrician, and author told WebMD:

When you spank, you are not respectful of the child. If we want our children to have self-esteem and self-respect, then that surely is not the way to give it to them. A second point is that we are living in a violent society, and to pass on the message that violence is the way you settle things is not something parents should be doing today.

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Murray A. Strauss, Ph.D., co-director of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, agrees with Dr. Brazelton. Speaking to WebMD, he stressed the fact that spanking doesn’t work better than other discipline methods:

It is the best-kept secret of American child psychology that spanking doesn't work any better than anything else. All of the methods work equally well, or to put it another way, they all work just as badly. Because with a 2 year old nothing works at first. But any method that is repeated enough times – be it spanking or reasoning with a child – will eventually get through.

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The American Academy of Pediatrics is against spanking. It stresses the fact that it may cause physical harm to babies:

The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly opposes striking a child for any reason. Spanking is never recommended; infants may be physically harmed by a parent who strikes the child.

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READ ALSO: 5 Things That Happen When Parents Yell At Children

What parents can do instead of spanking?

Most parents who spank their children do so because they feel like they have no other choice. Actually, there are other discipline methods that are more effective. They may need more time to be implemented, but they work in the long term.

Kathryn Kvols, the founder of The International Network for Children and Families (INCAF) and author of "Redirecting Children's Behavior," suggests these alternatives to spanking:

Simmer down

Parents often resort to spanking when they’ve lost control of the situation. If you feel you’re about to snap, take a step back and take time to simmer down. Go to a quiet place to get calm and come up with a better solution to the problem.

Give your child options

Children tend to misbehave when parents don’t give them options. Instead of telling your child that they “must do this, right here and right now”, present them with other reasonable options. Kvols gives an example:

If she is playing with her food at the table ask, Would you like to stop playing with your food or would you like to leave the table?” If the child continues to play with her food, you use kind but firm action by helping her down from the table. Then tell her that she can return to the table when she is ready to eat her food without playing in it.

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Use logical consequences

Teach your child what consequences their misbehaviors and misdeeds may lead to. Kvols uses this example to illustrate her point:

A child breaks a neighbor’s window and his parent says, “I see you’ve broken the window, what will you do to repair it?” using a kind but firm tone of voice. The child decides to mow the neighbor’s lawn and wash his car several times to repay the cost of breaking the window. What does the child learn in this situation? That mistakes are an inevitable part of life and it isn’t so important that he made the mistake but that he takes responsibility to repair the mistake.

This way, the child will learn to own up to their mistakes. In the process of making up for something they’ve done wrong, the child learns not to do it again.

Use kind but firm words and actions

When your child misbehaves, yelling at them or spanking them is the easiest thing to do. But talking to your child and using kind but firm actions is more effective in the long run. If, say, your child is playing loudly and that's making you unable to concentrate on whatever you’re doing, approach the child and say you want them to be quiet, in a calm but firm voice. If that doesn’t work, take the child to the other room.

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These methods may not work from the first time, but they eventually start to show results and are beneficial for the parent-child relationship and for the child’s emotional development in the long run.

READ ALSO: Is Spanking Your Child Ever OK? Researchers List Unwanted Outcomes Of This Parenting Technique


The material in this article is for informational purposes only and does not replace the advice of a certified specialist.