Parents disagree on spanking but experts are pretty clear

It's one of the BIGGEST parenting controversies, but what does research show?

Parents disagree on spanking but experts are pretty clear

It's one of the BIGGEST parenting controversies, but what does research show?
  • One of the biggest parenting controversies centers around spanking. Is it wrong or right to spank your child?

  • Some people call spankings physical abuse, while others swear that spankings are an effective form of child discipline. People say things like, "I grew up with my parents spanking me, and I turned out just fine," while others say they could never raise a hand against their children without feeling guilty.

  • While the public has their wildly varying opinions, researchers are pretty set on theirs when it comes to spankings.

  • Scientific findings

  • One study published in the Journal of Family Psychology looked to see if the effects on children who get spanked differ from the effects of children who are otherwise physically abused. The findings? After researching over 160,000 children, they found the effects "did not substantially differ between spanking and physical abuse" and findings "indicated a link between spanking and increased risk for detrimental child outcomes."

  • Elizabeth Gershoff, lead author of the study, now urges parents to think before they spank after she and her researchers found such black and white results.

  • "We as a society think of spanking and physical abuse as distinct behaviors," Gershoff said. "Yet our research shows that spanking is linked with the same negative child outcomes as abuse, just to a slightly lesser degree."

  • According to another study from the journal Developmental Psychology, physical punishments, including spankings, at a young age can negatively affect a child's temperament and behavior well into their teenage years.

  • "It is very important that parents refrain from physical punishment as it can have long-lasting impacts," said Gustavo Carlo, Millsap Professor of Diversity at MU and director of the MU Center for Family Policy and Research. "If we want to nurture positive behaviors, all parents should teach a child how to regulate their behaviors early."

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  • What to do instead

  • 1. Set consequences

  • Instead of saying, "If you're naughty, you're going to get a spanking," say, "If you're naughty, you'll have to give up your toy for an hour." The idea is to set consequences that avoid physical punishment but still help them understand they did something wrong. Withhold privileges instead of giving them a stinging bottom.

  • Also, be sure the consequence matches the rule-breaking. Don't restrict them from TV for a week for throwing a grape on the floor, but also don't just put them on a one minute time-out for slapping their sibling.

  • 2. Follow through

  • This step is huge. Inconsistency in enforcing punishment will communicate to your kid that misbehaving actually isn't a big deal. They'll misbehave more often because they'll think they can get away with it.

  • So, when you say they don't get dessert when they refuse to eat their dinner, be firm. Stay strong despite their cute, big eyes and sweet pleads for ice cream or candy.

  • 3. Reward them for good behavior

  • It's crucial to reward them for good behavior just as much as you punish them for bad. You want to teach them to find joy in behaving well and teach them the consequences of bad behavior.

  • For little things, just a simple comment such as "Good job, sweetie," or "Wow, thank you for doing that," will go a long way with teaching your child good behavior. For bigger accomplishments, a treat or an activity they enjoy as a reward is great positive reinforcement.

  • The next time your child misbehaves, think before you spank. There are so many psychological benefits to employing better forms of punishment — your child will thank you when they're older.

McKenna Park is a staff writer at FamilyShare. She's a happy wife, puppy mama, ice cream addict and film nerd. Website:

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