Although spanking a child has historically been a common method of administering discipline, both in homes and sometimes in schools, nearly all experts today believe that spanking can cause significant more harm than good. A modern understanding of corporal punishment, which involves inflicting physical punishments including spanking, reveals that there is scientific evidence showing exactly how spanking can harm a child by causing psychological issues that might develop in later life, and it can also result in perpetuating a cycle of abuse.
When children are spanked, especially toddlers, the lesson they learn from being spanked can have a negative impact on their development. The traditional proponent of spanking might argue that spanking helps children associate a certain action, such as coloring on the walls or throwing a tantrum in a store, with an obvious form of punishment, which is the spanking itself. While children may then avoid certain behaviors out of fear of being spanked, this is not a psychologically healthy way to raise a child. This form of punishment involves both physical pain and potential humiliation. Spanking not only causes physical pain, it causes psychological pain as well. Additionally, these children are also learning that causing physical harm to another is an appropriate method of controlling their behavior, or that physical violence toward other persons is a perfectly acceptable and socially reasonable behavior.
When the victim of spanking is a toddler, and may not even have the mental development necessary to correlate a specific bad behavior with the consequence of spanking, spanking can also cause developmental issues such as avoidance behavior, repression, and a loss of trust. If a child is spanked because he or she threw a tantrum in a public place, the child may associate the public place with punishment, and not the act of the tantrum itself. This may cause the child to want to avoid public places, or create anxiety within the child whenever in public. The child may be spanked because he or she was incessantly crying, and even if the reason for crying was for something such as not receiving a certain toy, the child may decide to simply repress all emotional expression. Additionally, the child may develop trust issues, because a child’s parents or primary caregivers are often the ones who are perceived to be the most protective and nurturing; when this also coincides with fear of physical punishment, this can result in trust issues with others in later life.
According to Rochman’s article in Time Magazine (2012), all of these potential psychological repercussions that are caused by spanking can significantly increase the potential for mental illnesses, with the most common forms of mental illness being anxiety and depression. According to Catelloe’s article in Psychology Today (2012), children who have received corporal punishment are more likely to have suicidal thoughts in later life. With the amount of physical, emotional, and psychological distress that spanking can cause a child, even if ultimately well-intentioned by a parent or caregiver wishing to teach discipline to a child, it is no surprise that spanking causes much more harm than any benefit that might result.
Because spanking has no positive benefits, it should never be used. A parent or primary caregiver will still need to administer discipline from time to time, as discipline is one way children can learn right from wrong. However, disciplining a child should be based on reason and education, and not the result of anger. The best way to admonish a child for a perceived negative behavior, which might be justified if one’s child is bullying others or calling other people names, for instance, would be to communicate with the child why this behavior is bad. This would allow for a child to learn fundamental concepts related to ethics and empathy. A toddler will naturally not understand the nuances of ethics, but they can understand basic forms of right and wrong.
If there is a need to administer discipline beyond this, then revoking certain privileges might be an acceptable form of discipline provided necessities related to health and well-being are not taken away. For instance, not allowing a child to play his or her favorite video game for a while would be reasonable, but sending the child to bed without dinner would not be reasonable, as forcing a child to endure hunger as a form punishment is also abusive. Making a child stand in time out, such as taking away all forms of electronic media and asking the child to reflect upon his or her behavior, might also be reasonable provided this was not an extended amount of time.
However, administering discipline should also not come with anger or resentment toward a child, such as verbally abusing the child, or withdrawing all emotional support. Instead, the child should always first be communicated with, so the child understands why his or her behavior is considered bad, and then any discipline such as informing the child he or she cannot play with his or her favorite toy for the evening should be taken if deemed necessary. After an appropriate amount of time has passed, the parent or caregiver should then communicate with the child further, to see if he or she understands why the punishment was necessary. In all instances, this would be a more appropriate form of discipline than spanking, and would result in healthier psychological development for the child.
- Castelloe, M. S. (2012). How spanking harms the brain. Psychology Today. Accessible online at https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-me-in-we/201202/how-spanking-harms-the-brain
- Rochman, B., 2012. Hitting your kids increases their risk of mental illness. Time. Accessible online at http://healthland.time.com/2012/07/02/physical-punishment-increases-your-kids-risk-of-mental-illness/