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Should You Spank?

Before we dive into what’s always been a passionately debated issue, let’s just define what I’m talking about when I say “spanking.”

For the purposes of this post, “spanking” refers to a light smack on the butt, meant only to correct behavior. I’m not talking about striking your child with genuine force with the intention of inflicting pain and/or fear. That’s more commonly known as “abuse” and if that’s your preferred method of parenting, you need to speak to a therapist.

So with that terminology understood, let’s get back to the question. Should you spank your kids?

Put another way, is spanking your kids an effective way of modifying problem behavior?

Because obviously none of us want to spank our kids. Even the parents I talk to who believe it’s effective say they hate doing it. The old saying, “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you,” rings true with any parent who finds themselves at this unenviable last-resort approach.

As parents, I’m sure we’ve all found ourselves at the point where we feel we’ve tried everything to fix problem behaviors, and a swat on the butt seems like a clear, effective message that whatever your little one was doing the moment your hand met his backside was not to be repeated.

But the research says otherwise.

In a 2012 study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, entitled Physical punishment of children: lessons from 20 years of research, lead researcher Joan Durrant shows, very convincingly, that not only does corporal punishment not produce the corrective behaviors intended, but has massive potential to cause serious developmental issues.

If you find yourself scoffing at that statement, I implore you to read that study. It’s not often that you find such clear-cut evidence in the scientific community. There’s usually a lot of “possibly due to variable x” or “more study is needed to determine if…” but this one is as close to irrefutable as I’ve ever seen.

The key points of the article break it down pretty succinctly.

  • Numerous studies have found that physical punishment increases the risk of broad and enduring negative developmental outcomes.
  • No study has found that physical punishment enhances developmental health.
  • Most child physical abuse occurs in the context of punishment.
  • A professional consensus is emerging that parents should be supported in learning nonviolent, effective approaches to discipline.

The idea that spanking sends a clear, understandable message seems logical at first glance, but when you break it down to a child’s level, it gets significantly murkier. If your toddler bites his infant sister, a swat might seem like a sensible way to teach him that it’s not acceptable.

But looked at another way, the concept of, “I bit my sister, so mommy spanked me, and told me it’s not nice to hurt people,” must be flat-out baffling to a child. It’s pretty confusing to me, to be honest, and I’m a grown woman.

Don’t get me wrong. As a mother of three, I know full well how frustrating it is to repeat your expectations and reasoning hundreds of times to someone who just doesn’t seem to be catching on. It definitely makes you feel like you’re just not getting through sometimes.

But rest assured, your message is being received, along with the underlying message that physical force is not a solution, and that discussion and compromise is the best way to deal with conflict. They may not get it right then and there, but it sets an example that they’ll follow later in life.

If I might just quote that CMAJ article one last time, I think this one line sums up the issue eloquently…

“Effective discipline rests on clear and age-appropriate expectations, effectively communicated within a trusting relationship and a safe environment.”

I couldn’t possibly agree more.

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Dana’s Sleep Blog

Straight talk about sleep, parenting,
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My blog is a great place to find opinions, advice, the occasional rant, and some great videos about sleep.

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