By Caitlin St John
March 19, 2015
Boy disciplined

If a mother disciplines by spanking or hitting, and then tries to make up for it with extra love and affection, the warm gestures don't actually help your child to feel better -- or to forget.

Researchers from Duke University interviewed more than 1,000 children and their mothers from eight countries (the U.S., China, Thailand, the Philippines, Italy, Kenya, Jordan, Colombia) to determine the extent of physical punishment each child received and their tendency for anxiety and aggression.

The study results, published in the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, revealed that even though kind gestures eased the stress of corporal punishment among children ages 8 to 10, aggression and anxiety still remained. In fact, the more loving a parent was after physical discipline, the more anxiety a child had. And not surprisingly, the more severe the punishment, the more severe aggression and anxiety increased.

No reason has been determined as to why maternal warmth doesn't soothe a child, but one simple theory: "it's too confusing and unnerving for a child to be hit hard and loved warmly all in the same home," says Jennifer Lansford, research professor at the Social Science Research Institute at Duke University. Mixed signals are confusing, so it doesn't come as a shock that children respond poorly to contradictory behaviors from their mothers.

"If you believe that you can shake your children or slap them across the face and then smooth things over gradually by smothering them with love, you are mistaken," said Dr. Lansford. "Being very warm with a child whom you hit in this manner rarely makes things better."

No matter how angry you are, experts recommend non-physical forms of discipline in order to encourage good behavior in children.

Caitlin St John is an Editorial Assistant for who splits her time between New York City and her hometown on Long Island. She's a self-proclaimed foodie who loves dancing and anything to do with her baby nephew. Follow her on Twitter: @CAITYstjohn

Image: Young boy via Shutterstock