3 Reasons Not to Spank Your Child, and 4 Things to Do Instead

It’s important to not spank, hit, or slap a child of any age. Babies and toddlers are especially unlikely to be able to make any connection between their behavior and physical punishment. They will only feel the pain of the hit. And don’t forget that kids learn by watching adults, particularly their parents.

For generations, people believed that spanking children teaches them to behave. Today, based on research and the lived experiences of families and doctors, we know that isn’t the case. Spanking is counterproductive and potentially harmful, says UNC Health pediatrician Edward Pickens, MD.

“Discipline is not about punishment, it’s about setting expectations,” says. “The ultimate goal of discipline is to teach the child about appropriate behavior and inappropriate behavior. Spanking teaches children that it is OK to hit others or to use physical force when you are angry.”

So, is a quick swat on the bottom really that bad? Can that even be considered a spanking?

Yes, Dr. Pickens says. “It still teaches a child that the way you solve problems is by hitting people. It’s hypocritical to say that a child cannot hit another child if that’s what the parent does to him. It reinforces the idea that we can solve problems by physical or violent means.”

Instead, Dr. Pickens suggests, pick the child up and remove them from the situation that is causing the misbehavior.

“If you’re close enough to swat them, then you’re close enough to pick them up,” he says.

Often, parents will spank a child out of anger or frustration.

“If you’re at that point,” he says, “take a breath and try to do something that isn’t impulsive.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics says corporal punishment such as spanking leads to an increased risk of negative behavioral, cognitive, psychosocial and emotional outcomes for children.

Dr. Pickens offers four reasons why parents should not spank their children:

1. Spanking is not an effective form of discipline.

It leads to feelings of fear and confusion but does not prevent the child from repeating the behavior that led to the spanking in the first place.

2. Spanking teaches children that it is acceptable to use physical force when you are angry.

“Not surprisingly, children who have been spanked tend to be more aggressive than children who have not been spanked,” Dr. Pickens says. “Watching others act aggressively leads to aggressive behavior.”

3. Children who have been spanked have a greater likelihood of developing anxiety and depression than children who have not been spanked.

Research using MRI to study children’s brains found that children who have been spanked have neural (brain) responses to threatening stimuli similar to children who experienced more severe forms of abuse.

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