Freelance Parenting Writer
Women of Upstate New York, April 2015
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Negative Effects of Spanking and Guide to Healthy Alternatives
A startling 2014 study by the University of Michigan found that 30% of one-year-old children had been spanked within the previous month.
Similarly, another study appeared in the American Psychological Association Journal of Family Psychology that same year. It also revealed spanking is alive and well. In fact, based on video observation of families, the degree of spanking that occurs within these families is probably under reported.
Southern Methodist University Professor George Holden, who led the study, observed the habitual nature of the spanking. Because the spanking often seemed to be done without thought, he believes parents probably don’t later recall the frequency in which they use corporal punishment.
Unrealistic parental expectations
This seems to indicate little change since a 2000 national study revealed 61 percent of adults condone regularly spanking children for inappropriate behavior. The survey, sponsored by the nonprofit groups Zero to Three and Civitas, and the toy maker Brio Corp. also found that parents’ expectations of their children’s behavior far exceeded the reality of age appropriate behavior.
According to fifty-seven percent of the 3,000 adults surveyed, children as young as six months old could be spoiled, a fact that’s been disputed by many child experts and psychologists including Dr. Kyle Pruett, at Yale University’s Child Study Center. Pruett explains that not picking up crying babies can increase their distress. Furthermore, the study found that some adults believe 15-month-olds should willingly share toys and that spanking infants as well as toddlers, could prevent them from becoming spoiled.
Adults condone spanking for many reasons in addition to unrealistic expectations. One reason stems from a small number of studies that have indicated spanking is an effective discipline method. Nonetheless, those studies have failed to compare the effectiveness of other nonphysical forms of discipline that are equally if not more effective.
Another reason for continued spanking is that many adults believe non-abusive spanking by loving parents isn’t harmful. While some studies have shown this form of spanking to be less harmful, the act hasn’t been proven harmless.
Negative effects of spanking
Over the last couple of decades, a number of studies have revealed a wide range of negative effects of spanking. One study released in 1997 conducted by Murray Straus of the University of New Hampshire found evidence that this traditional practice leads to more antisocial behaviors. The 3-year study found that mothers who had spanked even once during a test week reported higher rates of antisocial behavior by their children two years following the spankings.
As far back as 1979, other studies have revealed similar effects. Three separate studies, conducted by Grozier and Katz (1979), Patterson (1982), and Webster-Stratton et al (1988, 1990), all of which studied children with serious conduct problems, found that when spanking was discontinued and other forms of discipline and behavior management were used instead, the children’s behavior improved. This exposes just one of the negative effects of spanking.
In 1999, a study conducted by researchers at McMasters University found that while not all children who are spanked develop later problems, the rate of anxiety disorders, drug and alcohol problems, antisocial behavior, and depression was more prevalent among adults who had been spanked as children.
Because of this vast amount of research, the American Academy of Pediatrics has even called for a ban on school spanking.
Spanking increases risk for abuse
One of the worst negative effects of spanking is that while most parents mean well, it’s easy to lose patience, especially with our often-unrealistic expectations. According to Michigan Secretary of State Candice Miller, “In Michigan, a child is reported as abused or neglected every four minutes.” The problem with spanking is that light swats to the bottom sometimes escalate after repeated failure at curtailing inappropriate behavior. As parents’ frustration and anger build, the potential for abuse increases no matter how loving a parent.
More alarming, in 1991, in an issue of Violence and Victims, Harold Grasmick, Robert Bursik Jr., and M’lou Kimpel of the University of Oklahoma revealed “the child abuse rate for parents who approve of corporal punishment is four times the rate of child abuse for parents who do not approve of corporal punishment.”
What about alternatives?
Finding alternatives in an effort to avoid the negative effects spanking may not always be convenient in our hurried world. Making them work often requires time, energy, and patience as well as careful planning and implementation. But, for parents willing to learn alternatives, the rewards are immense, to both kids and parents alike. There are many effective ways to discipline without resorting to spanking. So parents choose an alternative that best works for them.
Furthermore, with regular praise, positive behavior is reinforced reducing the need to discipline. While results may not always be immediate, positive long-term effects will be evident.
Right Ways to Discipline
Prevention is the first step in dealing with problem behavior. When you childproof your home, protect it as well as your child by placing breakables and untouchables out of reach.
For infants and toddlers, distraction often works best. Offer a toy or something to distract your child from what she can’t have or a tantrum that’s underway.
Time-out works well for preschool and early elementary children. Give your child one minute in time-out per year old. A lengthy time-out often isn’t feasible for young children and can defeat the purpose. If a small child refuses his time out, calmly place him there. If he repeatedly leaves, sit with him or hold him until he learns time outs will be enforced.
Use natural consequences. If your child leaves without a jacket, providing the weather isn’t dangerously cold, allow him to learn from his mistake. Being uncomfortable or missing school recess will be strong motivators to wear a jacket in the future.
When you make rules, choose logical consequences that relate to the rules. If your child destroys something, make her pay for it. If your child ignores a request, take the toy or activity that’s keeping her. Television and video games are often culprits and the loss of these activities can do wonders. If older children overuse the telephone or don’t come in on time put a temporary halt to social privileges.
If you lose your cool, keep in mind the negative effects of spanking. Then give yourself a time out. If another adult is around, ask him to take charge. If not, make sure your child is safe then step out of the room. Take plenty of deep breaths. When you’re thinking clearly again, determine the best course of action before confronting your child.
For children with AD/HD, special needs, or behavior problems use a token economy to reinforce positive behavior and reduce the negative. Reward and penalize your child with tokens for various behaviors, which can later be exchanged for rewards. Before using a token economy, read how to properly implement the program. Try Behavior Management at Home: A Token Economy Program for Children and Teens by Harvey C. Parker.
Finally, choose your battles wisely. Parents are often caught up in unnecessary power struggles with their kids. When you make a rule or become angry with your child, determine whether the rule or request is truly important and why. Then make your decisions accordingly. If you ask Johnny to drink all his milk and he refuses to take the last two swallows, what would be the outcome? If you don’t have a good answer, drop the debate.