The spank-with-love approach to disciplining children is not effective, as 50 years of research points out. Here’s why you shouldn’t spank and how to properly parent through problematic behaviors.
In the debate about the ethics of spanking, there are generally two sides: those who believe in spanking, and those who don’t.
But there is a divide amongst the pro-spankers too — those who spank out of anger, frustration, and the belief that “kids need a good whoopin’,” and those who believe that they are spanking calmly, out of love.
The defense of the calm, loving spankers is that spanking is not an angry reaction; spanking should never be done in the heat of the moment, but rather after the parent has calmed down, always with an explanation of the infraction, and often followed by hugs.
The idea is that children need to be struck in order for them to develop obedience, but that the striking of the child must be done from a position of calm authority. It must be done “with love.” This notion will supposedly prevent the children from being harmed by their spanking, and instead they will learn discipline.
This is despite the fact that 50 years of research shows the negative impact spanking has on children’s brains.
When faced with such research, the spank-with-love folks usually respond by asserting that spanking out of anger is the real problem, not spanking itself. Surely if a swat is followed by an explanation and a hug, there won’t be any problems.
It’s tempting to believe that if we take anger, frustration, and rage out of the equation, spanking isn’t harmful and proves to be a good discipline tool.
But, this is not the case.
In a study from Duke University which “examined whether the association between corporal punishment and child adjustment problems (anxiety and aggression) is moderated by maternal warmth,” researchers found that pairing spanking with kindness does not lower the risk of harm from physical punishment.
The lead researcher, Jennifer Lansford, reports, “Being very warm with a child whom you hit in this manner rarely makes things better.” In fact, she says, “It can make a child more, not less, anxious.”
“Generally, childhood anxiety actually gets worse when parents are very loving alongside using corporate punishment,” she wrote, stating that it may be “simply too confusing and unnerving for a child to be hit hard and loved warmly all in the same home.”
“Unnerving” is the right word. The spank-with-love approach is reminiscent of an abusive relationship in which the abuser is warm, friendly, and loving part of the time, while administering painful punishment whenever they deem it necessary. The inconsistency of behavior causes more fear and anxiety than having a consistently angry parent would.
Children who are spanked are at higher risk for aggression, emotional issues, delinquent and antisocial behaviors, mental illness, and drug abuse. Yes, really.
For parents who grew up in a spanking environment during their own childhood, it can be challenging to stop the cycle of violence at home. But it’s important to recognize the chicken-or-egg cycle of corporal punishment. One study of a trial designed to reduce problematic behavior in children found that when incidents of spanking were reduced, “the difficult behaviours in the children also declined.”
Essentially, the more you spank, the more you’re creating problematic behaviors in your children. The less you spank, the less you’ll feel the need to spank, as those difficult behaviors decrease.
So what can you do?
If you want to stop spanking, make it a priority to take an entirely new approach with parenting. Learning new parenting skills and tools is a must. See the resources below, save them, and read them often. Commit to non-violent parenting. Your children, your family, and the world will be better for it.
- Gentle Parenting Mantras to Help You Through Your Day
- How to Stop a Temper Tantrum
- A Letter to the Parents of Tantruming Toddlers
- The Critical Step to Gentle Parenting That We Often Overlook
- Yelling Works…and Other Parenting Myths Busted
- Why Modeling May Be a Better Way to Teach Your Kids Than Discipline
- One Mom’s Experiment: Parenting Without Punishment
- Teach Your Child to Gently Work Through a Mistake With These 5 Questions
- Major Study Confirms That Spanking Causes Lasting Harm
- Positive Parenting is Often the Best Approach for Teens
- Four Ways to Teach Your Kids How to Practice, and Spread, Kindness
- Non-Violent Communication (video)