Why spanking is not okay

Recent research has confirmed that spanking is psychologically damaging. Here are eight positive ways to discipline your child…

stressed mom with shouting child

If you were spanked when you were growing up, you might shrug it off with a nervous laugh. A few short decades ago, spanking was still common practice and kids were told it was what they deserved for their bad behavior.

But a growing body of evidence shows that not only is spanking an ineffective disciplinary tactic, it can cause long-lasting psychological damage.

Spanking is ineffective because it doesn’t teach children how to behave differently. It also imparts the idea that it’s acceptable to use physical violence to resolve conflict or teach someone a lesson. And it can cause children to resent or fear the spanking parent.

Those are all very good reasons to avoid spanking. But researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Michigan who recently analyzed 50 years of spanking research found that it’s associated with much more sordid outcomes than previously believed. 

While previous studies had linked physical punishments including pushing, hitting and slapping to mood disorders, anxiety disorders and alcohol and drug abuse, this was the first study to investigate spanking exclusively. 

The researchers found that spanking was associated with parental defiance, antisocial behavior, aggression, mental-health issues and cognitive difficulties. The more children were spanked, the more likely they were to exhibit these behaviors.

Alternatives to spanking

Whether you spank your child and you’d like to stop or you want to increase your arsenal of effective discipline methods, these eight techniques can help you.

  1. Create a behavior management plan… for yourself

If you want to stop spanking, you need to devise a plan to break the cycle. When you start to feel angry and like you might spank your child, try the S.T.O.P. mindfulness technique

  • Stop what you’re doing
  • Turn away from your child and take a few deep breaths
  • Observe the physical sensations and emotions that you’re feeling
  • Proceed with a calmer and more conscious approach

It can take some practice, but after a while you’ll feel those waves of anger start to subside as soon as you begin the technique.

  1. Redirect your child’s attention

If you can see that your child is about to spiral into a tantrum, try to direct their attention to another object or activity. When they’re young, it might be as simple as showing them an airplane in the sky or a pretty flower. As they get older, you’ll have to get more creative. Suggest they use the see-saw when the swing is occupied at the park, or pull a coloring book and crayons out of your bag when they’re getting restless at a restaurant.

  1. Explain why their behavior isn’t acceptable 

Get down on their level, look them in the eyes and calmly explain how their behavior affects others. Once they understand that someone could get hurt by the stick they’re swinging or that snatching toys makes their friends sad, they’re more likely to want to stop.

  1. Teach them to problem-solve 

Children become easily frustrated when they can’t get things to work like they want them to. If your child is angry because their block tower keeps crashing down, help them figure out why it’s happening and what they can do to make it more robust. Build a solid tower with them, and then encourage them to try it again on their own.

  1. Give them choices 

When your child refuses to do something, give them a choice. For example, “You can wear your blue shoes or your green shoes – it’s up to you” or “Do you want an apple or a banana?” This gives them a sense of control and makes them more likely to comply than when they feel like they don’t have a choice in the matter.

  1. Use positive time-outs

Instead of the classic time-out where you banish your child to their room when they’ve misbehaved, reframe it in a more positive light. Tell your child that they need to have some quiet time in their room or in a special cozy down corner until they calm down. You might offer them some books or other soothing activities and tell them that they’re allowed to come out when they feel calm. See our article on Why every home needs a calm down corner for more ideas. 

  1. Implement clear consequences

You’ll get much better results by calmly implementing consequences for undesirable behavior than by shouting or spanking. For young children, keep it simple: “If you snatch a toy from your brother, I’m taking away the toy.” With older kids, the loss of privileges such as screen time is most effective. For this technique to work, you have to be very clear about the consequence they’ll receive if they continue their behavior and follow through once you’ve threatened it. 

  1. Use reward charts

Reward charts are a great way to encourage positive behaviors and take the focus off negative ones. You may choose to give your child a star each time they get ready for school or do their homework without a fuss. After a set number of stars, they earn a reward.

You’ll soon notice that their positive behavior comes more naturally because they’ve started to feel the intrinsic rewards of listening and cooperating. It makes them feel good to receive praise and that becomes motivation enough for them to do it again.


More on Positive Parenting

Professional Counselor + Positive Discipline Educator Andrea Baum shares her tips on positive parenting and how to successfully introduce positive time-out practices in her article on Positive Parenting Strategies.

Parenting a tween? Because I say so!” stops working with tweens. Your best strategy is a strong relationship, clear limits, and lots of empathy. Our article Beyond discipline for 10-12 year olds outlines clear strategies for this tricky age group.