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Spanking Promotes Misbehavior

There are some new data on the effects of spanking on children’s behavior that I long suspected but had no proof. Spanking can actually make a child misbehave more.

An interesting study cited by HealthDay reporter Dennis Thompson answered the chicken or egg conundrum “…do spankings promote aggression in children or do naturally aggressive children simply receive more spankings as parents try to control their behavior?”

Michael MacKenzie, associate professor at the Columbia University School of Social Work researched nearly 1900 urban families assessed at birth, age 1, 3, 5, and 9. Questions included whether children got spanked and whether they were aggressive, broke rules or talked aggressively.

28% of mothers reported spanking their child before age 1 (I can’t imagine anyone spanking a one-year-old). The percentage increased to 57 at age 3, went down to 53% at age 5 and 49% at age 9. The most interesting data? At each age, children who showed more behavior problems got more spankings at later ages.

MacKenzie answers the chicken or egg question, do unruly kids get more spankings or do spankings promote aggressive behavior by saying yes to both. “Some children elicit higher levels of physical discipline and high levels of physical discipline are in turn associated with higher levels of parental aggression.”

Dr Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York, saya, “I see it starting with the egg , with the egg being the spanking, and then the spanking leads to more aggressive behavior and the the aggressive behavior leads to more spanking .”

There is an important message for parents here. You need to find ways to manage misbehavior in young children without spanking. Put another way, if you spank you may get an increase in the very behavior you want to extinguish.

Dr. MacKenzie (and Dr. Heins) are sympathetic to parents. MacKenzie said, “It can be tough to avoid the urge to spank given how stressed and overwhelmed many young parents can become.” But I can offer parents more than my sympathy, discipline strategies that work. My followers know most of these strategies and agree they work most of the time, Nothing works all of the time or instantly which is what makes raising children interesting!

When I lecture on how to discipline children without spanking I often get a comment like “I was spanked and it didn’t affect me!” I bite my tongue to avoid a sarcastic response and talk about how wrong it is to teach kids it’s OK for big people to hit little people. I consider this the most important reason to not spank.

I’m also frequently asked, “How do you get a child’s attention without spanking?” Let me count the ways. Parents who think spanking is the only way to get a child to listen or to mind them have pretty impoverished thinking.

First, learn to talk right! Most parents today say too much too often. They plead, cajole, nag, harangue, beg, lecture, repeat themselves, and even try to “reason” with a toddler. When they get no response they raise the volume of their voice until they are yelling or screaming. Result? Parent gets frustrated and child gets away with murder. Many, if not most, parents give in and give up.

A better way: lower the volume of your voice and limit the number of words you use. Be sure you are close to the child and that the child is looking and listening before you start to speak. Start with the child’s name. Make every word count. Say what you want to say JUST ONCE. Example: “Sam, it’s time to clean up the toys.” If he does not listen and obey, there must be CONSEQUENCES–every time. “Sam, every toy that is not put away right now, gets confiscated, that means it gets taken away from you.”

Second, parents must feel in charge and be in charge. Funny, some parents are willing to spank but not willing to become comfortable in their parenting role which takes more work. Sorry, it’s part of being a parent. Sure we give our kids choices so they can learn how to think and make decisions. But the choices are about which tee to wear or which cereal to eat. We don’t give choices about whether or not to buckle up in the car. As commander-in-chief you make a rule that the car does not start until everyone is buckled in.

Prevent problems. Child proof before Baby crawls toward something valuable or dangerous. Kids beginning to squabble? Separate them before the war starts.

Remember Grandma’s Rule: If you do X, you will get Y. “If you clear the dishes on time I will take you to the park.

Distraction is very useful with babies. Baby wants to play with the nails Daddy is using to fix the chair? Swoop the baby up and read a favorite book together.

Nothing works and child has disobeyed? In children under two put them in the crib. In older children use time-out correctly (see my past ParenTip on Discipline Do’s).