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The Psychology Behind Spanking and a Question on Whether It Should Be Used

  • Subject: Life
  • Category: Family
  • Topic: Spanking
  • Pages 2
  • Words: 1126
  • Published: 15 November 2018
  • Downloads: 25
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Is Spanking OK?

Part One

There are a multitude of documented negative effects on spanking, yet many parents don’t seem to be hearing the message and realizing the serious damage that they are inflicting. Many studies have shown that physical punishment, spanking up there as one of the main forms, “can lead to increased aggression, antisocial behavior, physical injury, and mental health problems for children” (Smith). This punishment can cause children to be more aggressive in the future- children who were spanked or otherwise physically punished are “more likely to endorse hitting as a means of resolving their conflicts with peers and siblings” (Smith). On the same note, children who are physically punished are more likely to become adults who physically punish their own children because, as the prompt said, “many adults were spanked as children and feel that they turned out just fine.”

Hitting your children can lead to them exhibiting antisocial behavior and developing mental health problems in the future. According to research, “among adults, 2 to 7 percent of cases of mental disorders — including major depression, anxiety disorder, and paranoia — are attributable to physical punishment that occurred during childhood” (Live Science). Children who were spanked also had a poorer relationship with their parents and “had lower levels of moral internalization, which means they were less able to determine that something was morally wrong for its own sake rather than knowing it was wrong because they’d get smacked otherwise” (Haelle). Physical punishment may work momentarily to dissuade ‘problem behavior’ out of fear, but does not work in the long term. Children do not actually learn what is wrong or right, they simply learn what to do to avoid being hit. Spanking is not the way to go if you are trying to discipline your children and teach them what behaviors to emulate and which to avoid.

One research study aimed to answer the question of “whether spanking would be associated with detrimental child outcomes when studies relying on harsh and potentially abusive methods were removed” (Gershoff). Findings reported that yes, spanking and harsher types of physical abuse have results for children that are “similar in magnitude and identical in direction” (Gershoff). Both spanking and more severe types of physical abuse involve intentional parental acts of hurting a child, usually as a response to the child’s misbehavior. Spanking continues to prevail because parents fail to see it as a form of physical abuse, but findings from this study and others prove the detrimental outcomes of spanking amongst other forms of abuse.

Part Two

If spanking doesn’t work, what does? This is the question on many parents’ minds and the reason why many still resort to spanking as a means to dissuade a child’s problematic behavior. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), effective discipline requires three main components:

1) a positive, supportive, loving relationship between the parent(s) and child, 2) use of positive reinforcement strategies to increase desired behaviors, and 3) removing reinforcement or applying punishment to reduce or eliminate undesired behaviors.

In order for discipline techniques to be effective, there needs to be a positive relationship between the parent and child. This may be one reason why spanking is ineffective- it creates fear and negative attitudes toward said relationship. Part two of the AAP guidelines promotes the use of positive reinforcement. Want a child to do something more often? If you see them doing it, give them positive reinforcement! Whether it be cleaning up their toys or helping a friend, reinforce that behavior. In the preschool I work at, when we see a child doing something like cleaning up after themselves, we sometimes say “I really love how So-and-So is cleaning up!”, “I see that So-and-So is doing the right thing!”, or something along those lines. Validating a child’s positive behavior encourages them to repeat that behavior. Just because a child does something once does not mean that they will continue to do it, but if they realize that they will get praise, encouragement, or reinforcement from repeating that behavior, they are much more likely to continue to act in this positive way.

Along the same lines, if a child is behaving in a negative or undesirable way, there are different ways to go about changing or stopping this behavior. In younger children, redirection is always a good option if the undesired behavior isn’t putting anyone in danger or causing serious harm. For example, one of the children at my preschool might be running around the classroom and flinging themselves on the carpet during activity time. Instead of attempting to put them in timeout, I might instead redirect them to an activity that they might enjoy. I might say, “So-and-So, I really need some help at the art table with this project! Come check it out!” and bring them over there with me. It doesn’t always work, but often the child is just misbehaving because they’re bored and in redirecting them I have given them somewhere to put their energy. Another saying that is popular at my preschool is “I know you will do the right thing” or “You know how to do the right thing.” This helps children redirect themselves and when they do the right thing, there is usually positive reinforcement afterwards. When a child hears “You know what to do”, they are being told that the behavior they are currently doing is not the right thing to do but they are also being told that they are capable of doing the right thing. There is also the option of removing reinforcement or applying punishment in order to stop negative behaviors. The schools that I have worked at have focused on removing reinforcement rather than punishment.

For example, if a child keeps interrupting circle time, we might tell them that if they do it again, they will be last to pick their activity for choice time. The child is not going to be stopped from participating in activity time or negatively punished, but rather will not be able to pick their activity before anyone else. If that doesn’t work with a particular child, I might have them leave circle time and take a minute to collect themselves. This is sometimes necessary if a child is really disrupting the group time, as it is hard to get 16 preschoolers to pay attention for an extended length of time as it is.

I believe that the most effective forms of discipline are redirection and reinforcement of positive behavior. Time outs, spanking, verbal reprimands, and other negative forms of discipline are rarely effective and are not beneficial in teaching a child what behaviors to avoid and which to replicate. Reinforcing good behavior and redirecting bad behavior are the best ways to discipline a child in a safe and fair way

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The Psychology Behind Spanking and a Question on Whether it Should be Used. (2018, November 15). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 6, 2021, from
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