Spanking Children: What the Research Says

Whether it’s ever okay to hit a child – hitting them with the flat inside of the hand in an effort to gain compliance – is still hotly debated. In England, this controversy was recently revived by the education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, who declared that “the discipline of children should be left to the parents”.

Spanking is currently illegal in 63 countries, including Wales and Scotland. In England and Northern Ireland, however, parents remain free to hit their children.

Generally, the main argument against prohibiting parents from hitting their children is based on respect for parents’ rights. Zahawi said the state should not “nanny” parents on how to raise their children.

In contrast, child protection groups and psychologists argue that the decision whether or not to ban spanking should be based on what is best for the child rather than the parent. They cite psychological research as a source of information on whether spanking is good or bad for children.

Spanking Research

Research has shown that corporal punishment such as spanking is both ineffective and bad for children’s development. Research that analyzed a range of studies on corporal punishment such as spanking found that such punishment actually made children’s behavior worse.

Often, children still do not obey their parents’ orders after being disciplined. And even when they do, a punishment like spanking doesn’t help the child understand why their actions were wrong. This is because sometimes discipline comes without explanation.

Also, the child may be too caught up in their own emotions to be able to understand why their actions were wrong. In the future, the child may follow the orders of his parents out of fear of being physically punished again, and not because he understands that it is the right thing to do.

In terms of impact on child development, corporal punishment has been associated with behavioral, social and mental health problems throughout childhood and adolescence. Children are more likely to have emotional and mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. They are also more likely to develop aggression and engage in risky behaviors. These effects can harm the relationship between parent and child and between child and peers.

A strong argument against the use of spanking is that children who are spanked are at a higher risk of being abused and abused by their parents. Indeed, over time, it may take more and more force to have the same effect.

Response to stress

Parental stress plays an important role in the use of corporal punishment. When parents are stressed, they are less sensitive to their children’s needs and are more likely to use harsher discipline, such as spanking.

A parent who occasionally hits their child may end up hitting them more often or using harsher forms of physical discipline when they become stressed. Spanking is an emotional response, often done when parents don’t know how to control their children.

My colleagues and I at the University of Winchester carried out a study during the first COVID-19 lockdown in the UK. We asked 322 parents about their level of stress and their disciplinary practices.

Stressed mother trying to work with two children making noise
Parents have reported higher stress levels during the pandemic.
FamVeld/Shutterstock

Unsurprisingly, parents said they were much more stressed than before the pandemic. Parents who were very stressed reported disciplining their children more frequently and being tougher on them. Our findings are consistent with several reports claiming that the risk of violence against children has increased around the world during COVID-19 related lockdowns.

Nevertheless, some psychologists have argued that we cannot say categorically that spanking is negative for children. In some cases, studies examining spanking do so in combination with other forms of corporal punishment, such as punching or beating. Therefore, they argue that the actual effects of spanking on children’s development may have been exaggerated.

Additionally, some argue that most research on this topic cannot clearly establish that spanking is definitively the cause of negative child outcomes – just that there is a link between spanking and negative child outcomes.

However, one conclusion is clear amidst the spanking controversy. This is never positive for the development of children.

Research evidence overwhelmingly shows that corporal punishment such as spanking has negative outcomes. Parents can use a range of other forms of discipline to help children understand why their behavior is wrong. These include time out (removing a child from an environment where they are doing something they shouldn’t be doing), reasoning with the child, or taking away privileges, such as removing their video game console for the weekend. -end.

Parents should use these discipline techniques instead of spanking.

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