Does Spanking Increase Child Aggression?

child aggression

Parents have debated this vary question, to a varying degree, for literally centuries: does spanking a child teach them important lessons that add value to their life, or does it teach them that violence is an acceptable solution to a problem? It should be noted that there is an obvious difference between physically disciplining your child and physically abusing your child. In fact, as with most things in life there is a balance and physical discipline is no different.

A new study conducted by the University of Manitoba’s Family Social Sciences department indicates that slapping or spanking your child can have serious negative effects on their long-term development. However, it is also important to mention that there are conflicting studies that show that appropriate levels of physical discipline are beneficial in child rearing.

This being said, it is ultimately up to the parent to determine when and if physical discipline is necessary. To this end, it is important to remember that in times where discipline is required, the end goal is to use the approach that is best suited for teaching the lesson that actions have consequences.

Increased Aggression in Children, According to Study

The study reviewed 20 years of research regarding the link between physical punishment and child aggression. All of the reviewed research came to the same conclusion: spanking your child increases his or her chance of being more aggressive in the long run.

How Many Parents Spank Their Children?

According to LiveScience.com, the prevalence of spanking is on the decline. A recent poll conducted by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital indicated that just 22% of parents say they’re “very likely” to physically punish their children with spanking, while 10% reported paddling their children. Spanking rates also varied by region considerably:

  • Northeast – 6%

  • Midwest – 16%

  • South – 20%

  • West – 31%

Most of the parents that responded to the poll said they use other forms of discipline instead of spanking, such as sending them to a “time out” room, revoking privileges or reasoning through the problem.

An “Entrenched Part of Culture”

In a previous study involving 2,400 mothers, researchers found that children who had been spanked just twice in one month when they were 3 years of age were significantly more likely to have higher aggression levels when they were 5.

According to Joan Durrant, the co-author of the University of Manitoba study, physical punishment in the United States is an “entrenched part of culture.” She said that since physical punishment was very popular among parents until recent years, very few adults have been raised in its complete absence. As such, it can be difficult for some new parents to determine other ways of disciplining their children.

Durrant said that, in many cases, parents may not know the reasons behind their children’s behavior. She said that behavior that’s often perceived as rebellious or deliberately bad, and therefore treated with physical punishment, is actually just a normal symptom of the child’s current developmental stage.

Durrant summed up spanking’s link to physical aggression as such: “The more often a child sees a parent respond to conflict or frustration with slapping or spanking, the more likely that child will do the same when confronting their own conflicts.”

Nonviolent Approaches to Discipline

A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that parents should discipline children using positive, nonviolent techniques. Studies indicate that these techniques actually work better as immediate disciplinary measures, and produce positive long-term effects in children.

According to psychologist Kimberly Sirl of the St. Louis Children’s Hospital, this type of discipline should begin “as early as 12 months old.” Sirl suggests that parents should start early when it comes to teaching the ideas of patience, sharing and coping with frustration.

Sirl offered a few specific tips for parents struggling to discipline their children:

  • Encourage good behavior with praise or a tiny reward

  • Explain the reasons behind your rules

  • If your child is acting out, ignore them for roughly 10 seconds

  • If this fails, redirect their behavior by giving them a different task

Aggression in Children From Spanking: The Bottom Line

Multiple studies have shown that physical discipline such as spanking can cause long-term negative effects in children, such as increased aggression levels. However, while spanking has been proven to be effective over both the short and long term, nonviolent approaches have also been proven to work as well.

In summary, all children and their specific environment are different and the end goal is to discipline your children in a way that best creates a long-term positive effect on them in terms of teaching them that actions have consequences. By doing so, you will enable them to lead and prosperous life that is filled with respect, fortuitousness and hence, be value added to society.

The full text of a recent study reviewing 20 years of research in this area is available in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

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