Spanking Doesn’t Work

There are two things we know for sure about spanking: a lot of parents in the US still practice it, and it does have an effect in the moment. But research continues to show that, over the long-term, spanking doesn’t work – because it leads to worse, rather than better, outcomes.

Yet another paper was published showing that spanking has negative effects on child development. Here’s why this study is important:

  • A large (over 1,900 families) sample was used – providing confidence in the findings
  • A longitudinal design was used – kids were studied from age 3 through age 9
  • A number of statistical controls were applied to focus on the specific impact of spanking on later development

Perhaps the most important finding was that while a majority of parents engaged in spanking (e.g., 57% of mothers at age 3), not every child experienced spanking – which allowed for enough variation in the sample to have a good look at the effects of spanking over time. Put another way, the researchers could compare developmental benchmarks in kids who were spanked, and those who weren’t. So what were those results?

  • Spanking was associated with more behavior problems at age 9
  • Spanking was associated with lower vocabulary (receptive) scores at age 9

Let’s keep in mind here the argument for spanking – it’s purported to improve children’s behavior. Studies continue to demonstrate that it does not do this, and in fact often predicts worse behavior. So despite the personal stories and folklore about how a good spanking can change a kid, each empirical study that comes out suggests that it changes a kid for the worse, not better. If these stories ring true, why don’t we see huge positive effects of spanking when we study kids over time?

Parents who feel that there is no other way to shape their child’s behavior would do well to speak to their pediatrician to try to get training in behavioral techniques that actually work. Everyone will be happier and, in the long run, kids will show improvements, rather than declines, in their behavior over time.

What’s your parenting style? Find out! And watch this video on how to discipline without spanking:



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