Study: Spanking doesn't make kids more compliant; alternative discipline tips
Posted May 2, 2016
Here's a story I like to tell from my childhood. I'll leave the names out since it was such a long time ago, but it's stayed with me decades later as I made my own decisions about how I would discipline my kids ... and that has never included spanking.
The child of three or four had misbehaved in some way. The actual offense has been long forgotten. It was the mother's reaction that I remember. She found the wooden spoon used for these exact moments, pulled the child to her and spanked her with that wooden spoon.
It was a typical scene until the spoon snapped in two. The mother's face turned absolutely white with horror that she may have hit her child so hard to cause the spoon to break. The child stood up, as defiant as ever, looked at the mother and laughed: "And that didn't even hurt."
The mother never spanked again. And what, exactly, did the child learn? To me, it's never made sense to teach a child through threat of physical pain.
Now, a major study backs up my concerns about the long-time practice. A meta-analysis of 75 studies conducted over the last 50 years, which includes data on about 160,000 children, found that spanking can lead to long-term behavioral, emotional and cognitive negatives.
"Spanking — which the researchers were careful to separate from physical abuse and defined as an 'open-handed swat on the child's behind or extremities' — appears to be linked to unintended consequences like increased aggression, anxiety and depression," according to an article on WRAL.com. "In all, the study looked at 17 outcomes and found links to 13 of them, 'all on the negative side.'"
"Our research shows spanking is linked to the same negative outcomes as abuse, just to a slightly lower degree," said Elizabeth Gershoff, one of the researchers and an associate professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, in the article.
So what's a parent to do? At my house, we've relied on time outs, consequences and withholding of privileges. We're far from perfect parents, but we do our best not to "threaten" consequences. We try to always deliver on our promises that bad behavior means they lose out on things.
My kids have missed out on days at the beach, time on their electronic devices, a dinner out and more. And, believe me, they definitely remember those nights when the other sibling got to go out to eat with a parent and they were stuck at home with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends some really practical discipline strategies that do work, including for older kids. The key to any of these discipline methods, however, is following the tips that the group shares to ensure they are effective.
Tips To Make Discipline More Effective
Via American Academy of Pediatrics
- Be Aware of What Your Child Can and Cannot Do. Maybe your three-year-old isn't quite sure where his toys go. Or, maybe your toddler just wants to see what happens when she spills her milk for the third time. What parents might consider misbehavior may actually be a sign that their child doesn't understand what they need to do or just can't do it.
- Think Before You Speak. If you need to take a moment, take it to make sure that you can follow through with what you're saying. Don't be wishy washy. If you make a rule, stand by it. You're the parent!
- Don't Give In. Never give in. If your child is crying for a piece of candy at the store, don't get it for him to stop the crying. That means he's just going to cry the next time you're at the store so you get him a piece of candy. Never reward bad behavior because you're tired of the whining.
- Work Toward Consistency. Kids love structure and consistency. They are happy when they know what to expect day to day. If the house rule is one hour of TV time, don't let that vary wildly from day to day. Kids, faced with inconsistency, will push the limits to find out what they are, the pediatric group says.
- Pay Attention To Your Child's Feelings. Do they always seem to act up when a friend is about to leave or right around the time you're trying to figure out what's for dinner? Look for patterns and talk to your kids about them. Recognize their feelings (but, still, don't give in).
- Learn From Mistakes—Including Your Own. "If you do not handle a situation well the first time, try not to worry about it," the pediatric group says. "Think about what you could have done differently, and try to do it the next time. If you feel you have made a real mistake in the heat of the moment, wait to cool down, apologize to your child, and explain how you will handle the situation in the future. Be sure to keep your promise. This gives your child a good model of how to recover from mistakes."
Another thing I find incredibly effective: Praise your kids. Build your kids up when they do the right thing. Share and celebrate their successes with other family members at dinner that night. Love them, hug them and make sure they know that the best way to get your attention is not by misbehaving, but when they make the right decisions.