Someone recently asked me what I thought of spanking children.
"Just a light tap on the bottom, to change the energy," he said.
I felt confused. I totally understand where he's coming from, and how a "light tap" can instantly straighten a child
out, refocus him and let him know you're serious.
It's so easy. However, there are so many other ways to guide children, and with all the negative effects of spanking, I
just can't condone it.
National surveys show that a startling 61 percent of adults regularly spank children for inappropriate behavior. The
study also shows that parents' expectations of their children's behavior far exceeds the reality of age-appropriate
behavior. They use spanking for a disciplinary method, and believe that non-abusive spanking by loving parents is not
harmful. Some studies show this form of spanking has detrimental effects.
Spanking leads to more antisocial behaviors in children, even with mothers who spanked only once during a test week
during the study. Anxiety disorders, aggression, later drug and alcohol problems and depression are all more prevalent
in adults who were spanked as children.
A very interesting study has just come out by longtime punishment researcher Murray Straus: Spanking can hurt a child's
intellectual growth. The kids who had been spanked in this study had IQs that were 5 points lower on average than those
of kids who hadn't, four years later. The stress and fear caused by physical discipline may interfere with brain
While most parents mean well, it is easy to lose patience, and light swats can escalate. The child abuse rate for
parents who spank is four times the rate than for non-spanking parents.
Finding alternatives to spanking and making them work requires time, energy and patience, as well as planning and
implementation, but the rewards are immense.
Techniques that replace spanking include: thinking ahead and preparing the child's environment; distraction for infants
and toddlers; time-outs for preschool and early elementary kids; the use of natural consequences that fit the offense;
giving yourself a time-out if you feel you are losing control, lots of positive support and reinforcement programs; and
choosing your battles wisely.
These alternative methods can teach children about their behavior and give them important feedback on how to fit better
into society. They show a certain element of love and respect for the kids, and this can go a long way in fostering
happy, well-adjusted and nice kids. Results may not be as immediate as with spanking, but the positive, long-term
effects will be evident.
One more interesting fact: In 24 countries around the world, it is illegal for a parent, teacher or anyone else to
spank a child. Yet, in all of North America, physical punishment by a parent - as long as it is not severe - is seen by
many as necessary discipline. I believe we should consider banning the physical punishment of children. All people have
the right to their physical integrity, and children are people, too.
Martha McClellan has been an early childhood educator, director and administrator for 32 years. She is currently
consulting with and supporting early care providers. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.