There has been a lot of research regarding the effects of disciplining children with physical punishment and spanking. These studies have been conducted since 1990 and have consistently indicated negative results for this style of discipline especially an increase in aggressive and antisocial behavior on the part of the spanked child, (Durrant & Ensom, 2012).
Proponents of spanking as a form of discipline argue against this relationship indicating that the children who need to be spanked or physically punished are already more aggressive and so this explains the connection between increased aggression in children who are spanked.
This recent study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal spanning over twenty years controlled for this issue precisely and addressed the issue of causality. The study followed children who were physically punished as a form of discipline and children who were not.
The study shows that children who are physically punished get more aggressive over time and those that are not physically punished get less aggressive over time. Furthermore, it looked at studies where parents that were taught to change their methods from physical punishment to non-violent methods of discipline saw a decline in aggressive behavior in their children, (Durrant & Ensom, 2012, p2).
What is also good about this study is it looks at “everyday” acts of aggression so it is addressing the kind of physical punishment that is most common and it links these with increased aggression over time.
It also showed that those children that are spanked or hit are more likely to be aggressive toward family members or peers and exhibit other antisocial behavior.
The study’s analysis shows that there are short-term benefits to spanking, as it stops the unwanted behavior for the immediate situation; But these short-term benefits are at the cost of some very negative long-term effects. It is linked to an increase in aggressive behavior in the long-term.
One of the Key Points of the study shows that NO study has found that physical punishment enhances developmental health (Durrant & Ensom, 2012, p1); there is no link between positive behavior and corporeal punishment in the long-run.
The authors reported on a meta-analysis of studies since 1990 published in 2002 and conducted their own analysis to date and discovered no study – regardless of the sample size, or age of child – has been able to establish positive associations with physical discipline, (Durrant & Ensom, 2012, p2).
This is telling because from an anecdotal perspective spanking and hitting as a disciplinary tool are very common. Writing from my observations in my practice and the parents I know socially, I would estimate that over 75 percent use physical punishment and spanking to discipline their children; other polls have quoted 80 percent (Time, 2.6.2012, online).
In my experience, when talking with parents about this subject, individuals who were physically punished offer information about how they feel it was good for them; identifying specific skills they learned as a result.
However, upon examination what becomes more clear is that their learning was a result of them applying their own mindfulness to the situation to make sense out of the hitting, NOT as a result of some direct teaching or correlation connected to the physical punishment. Most of these individuals express that although they will use physical punishment they will not do it to the extent their parents did; and those that use it state they feel their child understands why they are being punished.
One of the researchers and lead author of the report, Joan Durrant a Child Clinical Psychologist and Professor of Family Studies at the University of Manitoba, cited the issue in the U.S. of physical punishment being an integral part of the culture, a rare instance when an individual was raised without it, which makes it second nature to use physical punishment and feels out of the norm to raise a child without it, Fox News Health, 2.7.2012.
She also discerned that a big component of this style of parenting is that parents may be unaware of basic child development and may then inaccurately assess their child as being defiant or intentionally bad rather than simply acting in various ways that are consistent with normal child development, (Fox News Health, 2.7.2012).
According to an article in (Time, 2.6.2012) about this specific study Durrant reports the most effective way to assist your children is through educating them about what they are doing that isn’t acceptable or appropriate she used the following example:
A young toddler who upends her cereal bowl on her head probably isn’t being ornery; she’s just curious to see what will happen. Durrant likes to use her son as an example. When he was 3, he dropped his dad’s toothbrush into the toilet. Another parent might have yelled, but Durrant’s academic background helped her realize that he was just experimenting: he dropped objects into water floating in sinks and bathtubs with nary a scolding; why not toilets too? “I explained what goes into toilets and then said, Do you think Daddy is going to want to put that toothbrush in his mouth now?” Message transmitted with no yelling. (or spanking – my addition).
She is talking about Mindfulness. Mindfulness incorporates an understanding about your child’s temperament and child development. Recognizing the basic nature of children is curiosity and exploring their environment, that children are dealing with power issues and trying to understand how things work in relationship and in their environment, and they go through a spiraling developmental system where they have skills that then get reworked and lost as they develop their gross motor activities, fine motor activities and their inner cognitive systems, learning through modeling from the world around them, (Gesell Institute of Child Development, Ames and Ilg, 1979; Erik Erikson, Childhood and Society, 1960)
This study is good news for those of us who have been disciplining through mindfulness and dovetails very closely with the information presented in my book, Turning NO to ON: The Art of Parenting with Mindfulness (8.14.2011).
It supports the instinctive sense that discipline is a function of knowing, understanding and teaching your child. Durrant states in the article ” Effective discipline rests on clear and appropriate expectations, effectively communicated within a trusting relationship and a safe environment”, (Durrant & Ensom, 2012, p4).
Discipline is an equation of knowing and understanding your child’s temperament and developmental stage + knowing and understanding his emotional and intellectual capacity + knowing and understanding your own temperament and emotional capacity + guiding toward a recognized set of goals + and knowing what you are trying to teach, when. It is most effective when mindfulness is applied to this multi-faceted equation to get the most effective long-term results.
Reactivity can create problems with this equation in parenting and if your history is that you were spanked or hit as a child then you will have a reactivity to do just that.
In reality if you hit or spank a child to stop their behavior you will stop it for that immediate moment, but you are probably not teaching them what you think you are.
You may think you are teaching them to control themselves, think things through or have good manners but you are modeling something completely different.
You are modeling the opposite – not thinking things through not controlling yourself.
In fact you are modeling that hitting is a solution. That hitting is a way to get control over another person. That people in power can make others do things. I know for many parents that sounds reasonable but if you just look at the long-term effects you can see how this is creating an environment for aggressive behavior, bullying and in some instances domestic violence among adults, low-self esteem and a lack of an internal locus of control – knowing what is right from an inner understanding cognitively with an ability to direct ones own course in life.
The article clarified information that children who are spanked may feel depressed and devalued, and their sense of self-worth can suffer… and physical punishment is a risk factor for child aggression and antisocial behavior, (Durrant & Ensom, 2012, p2). It also identified studies which show researchers have found that physical punishment is linked to slower cognitive development and adversely affects academic achievement, (Durrant & Ensom, 2012, p2). Through their analysis of previous studies, other links identified show up later in life: mental – health problems including depression, anxiety, and substance abuse, these may be mediated by disruptions of the parent-child attachment resulted from pain inflicted by the caregiver, by increased levels of cortisol, or by chemical disruption of the brain’s mechanism for regulating stress, (Durrant & Ensom, 2012, p2).
To avoid some of these devastating side-effects to spanking it seems wiser to utilize more effective ways to discipline that don’t promote the development of aggressive behavior, wreak self-esteem, and encourage antisocial behavior.
The most effective way to discipline is to utilize positive techniques of teaching and guiding. The use of time-outs as a way of teaching your child to think through situations and communicate his needs and to help diffuse a negative situation, loss of privileges as a way of teaching connections, and increasing your communication with your child so that you can understand and guide him are all ways to discipline in a positive and educational way.
Mindfulness is a tool that you can use to structure your parenting to assist you and your child. Remember to focus on how to be responsive rather than reactive and to identify the whole of what is going on to assist your child in developing self-control, thinking skills, and proper acceptable behavior.
Durant and Ensom identify as a Key Point in the article “A professional consensus is emerging that parents should be supported in learning non-violent, effective approaches to discipline”, (Durrant & Ensom, 2012, p1).
You can check out the information presented here through the sites identified in the article or the references below.
See you tomorrow.
Ames, Louise Bates & Ilg, Francis L.; Your Five-Year Old, Sunny ans Serene. New York City, New York: Dell Publishing Group: 1979.
Durrant, Joan and Ensom, Ron; Physical punishment of children: lessons from 20 years of research, CMAJ; cmaj .101314 v1; published ahead of print February 6, 2012, doi:10.1503/cmaj.101314 v1.
Erikson, Erik H.; Childhood and Society, Second Edition. New York City, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, inc: 1963.
Gineris, Beth; Turning NO to ON: The Art of Parenting with Mindfulness. Charleston, South Carolina: CreateSpace Printing: 2011.