I’m calling for a turn of the tides in child discipline research. Studies so far have proven beyond a doubt that spanking is not a healthy or effective method of discipline and yet, the studies continue to be created, funded, and published because too many homes are still spanking. Many families are simply under-educated about alternatives and it isn’t their fault.
There are too few studies about any other methods of discipline. Instead of shaming parents with more anti-spanking studies, I suggest that we begin offering families alternatives to spanking by studying how gentle and positive discipline work, what it looks like across different families and how it can effectively be used in families with young children.
Spanking is state-sanctioned abuse. It is not legal to hit your spouse, a stranger, or your dog but it is legal to hit your child. It is possible that the wealth of research against spanking might have been originally intended to be used to change the laws. Delaware outlawed spanking in 2012 but that move isn’t trending anywhere else and I doubt it will until more parents have effective alternatives. Why are we pointing the finger at individual parents when spanking (and ownership of and disrespect of) children is just part of our culture?
80% of preschoolers in the USA are spanked. Most families who spank believe that the word discipline means punishment, when, in fact it simply means to teach. What are the efficacy outcomes of teaching gentle, respectful, emotional literacy and communication as discipline; of setting clear and respectful boundaries and staying consistent with limits? How about learning and practicing meditation, deep breathing, anger management for parents and nonviolent communication? How are our childrens’ psychology and neurology effected by these methods? Are logical consequences more effective than just talking to your child?
We do not have these answers because all of the dollars for research on discipline and child psychology are still going toward proving that spanking is harmful and does not work. I’m tired of reading these studies. We are slapping parents’ hands and then not redirecting them to a proven better option.
I have counted 27 reputable studies that show either ineffectiveness or negative effects of spanking. Together these studies include psychological conditions like anxiety and depression, physical aggression towards parents, peers and siblings, physical conditions like susceptibility to heart disease, lowered cognitive and school scores, and substance abuse and lack of social skills later in life. You can find them all by googling “spanking study”. Studies have shown that spanking sometimes curbs unwanted behavior for as short as 10 minutes or as long as a week, but not long term.
Participants in my Savvy Gentle Discipline workshops and my private clients always ask where the studies are comparing methods of discipline but there are none. They want and need studies about the efficacy of the gentle discipline methods I am teaching them, but there are none. There are a few small studies regarding efficacy and psychological safety of time-outs. There is one study on efficacies of different tactics used during a tantrum. I give families all of the information that exists-and it isn’t enough.
Time-Outs are not part of positive or gentle discipline. Time-Outs and positive reinforcement/rewards are the only “spanking alternatives” which have truly been studied (barely) so far. We now know that both Time-Outs as punishment and too much praise also have negative consequences. There are even better methods out there. We deserve to know that they are, and which ones work best for which children and exactly how to use them effectively. I have worked with over 500 children as a teacher and parent educator but so have many of my colleagues who may contradict the views I’ve gained from experience. Parents need real, quantifiable data on discipline methods- and that means researches have to become more interested in gentle methods than in spanking.
If you are concerned about the rates of spanking in the U.S and you want parents to have information about what to do instead and why, please share this article! I’m hoping one of the wonderful spanking researchers gets the memo.
It would be hypocritical of me to close without giving a real, effective alternative to spanking. One of the main reasons parents report spanking children for is when the child may be in danger- like running out into the street. How do you get a child to stop when they may have already heard “No” twenty times that day and are ignoring that word? You practice fun “stop and go” games at home from a very early age, so that you condition your child to stop the body when they hear the word.
Once your child has stopped and you swoop them up in your arms, you explain with emotion (yet without aggression) how scared you were for their safety, why and how they can do it differently next time. The message is clear: the situation was dangerous, this is why and I care deeply about your well-being. This method helps the child learn empathy, which will serve both parent and child in every discipline challenge to come.