Is Spanking Ever A Good Idea? - Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

My ex and I disagree over many things, but now he has his father on his side about spanking our six-year-old.

Our son has always been challenging – persistent, high energy, and very intelligent – however the idea of slapping his backside for misbehavior seems totally wrong to me. The situation that brought this up was a call from the teacher saying our son had thrown a lunch box at another student in anger. Fortunately it missed, but that was grounds for being sent to the principal’s office to be sent home for the rest of the day. I have only seen aggressive outbursts against another child a few times, and only since his father moved out when the boy was four. I really don’t believe that hitting him is any kind of solution. What are some talking points I might try with Grandpa? I think if I can turn his thinking around he will set his son, my ex, straight.

Ready to Defend Non-Violence

Dear RtDN-V,

There has been a shift in thinking over the past few generations about corporal punishment. While hitting a child may have been acceptable, even expected, in Grandpa’s time, in the present time it is disapproved of among parents and professionals.

In an article entitled, “The Spanking Debate is Over,” Noam Shpancer, Ph.D. points to the wisdom of research and theory  to warn against using spanking to control behavior. Based on over 50 years of research, “Spanking is correlated strongly and quite exclusively with multiple negative outcomes for children.” These negative outcomes include, among other things, anxiety and anti-social behavior.
Shpancer cites child development theorists to argue that none have proposed that spanking induces good outcomes.

Children Imitate the Examples They See
Prompted by concern over the effect of violence in children’s television programming in the 1960’s, Walter Bandura designed an experiment to show that children who watched violent behavior were very likely to imitate that behavior. As explained by Social Learning Theory, a parent who exerts physical power over his child could actually be setting an example for the child to use physical aggression against someone else.

“The World isn’t Safe for Me”
Attachment Theory, as studied and described by John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth and others in the mid-twentieth century and still ongoing today, states that a young child expects safety and nurturing from a parent figure. This first relationship is “an internal working model” of how people should interact. Thinking along these lines, being hit by a parent can erode trust and self-worth and puts a child at high risk for emotional disorders.

One More for the ACE Score
Breaking new ground to promote the critical importance of child development, the Ecobiodevelopmental Theory proclaims a causal relationship between high stress in childhood and both short-term and long-term negative outcomes. The continuing investigation into Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) points to specific stressors for children, including physical abuse and emotional abuse, which jeopardize healthy brain development and many health factors even into adulthood. In a stressful situation adrenaline and cortisol are released. In high doses, these hormones damage brain cell connections – affecting learning and emotional control - and negatively impact the immune system and other systems of the body. Since spanking clearly raises a child’s stress level, Shpancer and others predict that this misguided guidance tactic will soon be added to the official list of harmful childhood experiences known as the ACEs score sheet.

I wonder if your son’s aggressive outbursts since his father left the home are due to Grandpa’s influence on his son’s parenting? A child who is intelligent, high energy, and persistent can be easily channeled to express these traits. Unless of course the adult is intolerant of a bright, bouncy, and determined child. The ensuing power struggle – between Grandpa and your son, or your ex (under the influence of Grandpa) and your son - may have provoked some spankings, which of course only made things worse for your son’s behavior.

There is also an undeniable effect on a child’s ability to manage his emotions well when his family structure undergoes a major shift. Your observation that his aggressive displays only occurred post-separation suggests that he is working through his feelings about the break-up of his parents. Has your son had any heart-to-heart conversations with you or another caring adult about his family changes?

Beyond the above talking points about the illogical intention of using physical punishment to deter a child from aggressive (or any) misbehavior, the three important adults in your little boy’s life would benefit from taking a parenting class together. And / or you can direct Grandpa to a few websites for tips. Search words could include “Alternatives to Spanking” or “Positive Discipline” or “Peaceful Parenting.” A few sessions with a child development specialist would be another route to pursue – either individually, or, ideally, all of you together.

With all this good information available, spanking just doesn’t make sense.

Dr. Debbie

Click here for more parenting advice by Debbie Wood.

Dr. Debbie Wood will be presenting “Little Kids at Hope” a workshop for parents, teachers and child care professionals about nurturing relationships in the first five years. The workshop will be held at Chesapeake Children’s Museum in Annapolis, Wednesday, October 17 from 6:30 – 9:30 pm. Register with Arundel Child Care Connections at arundelccc.org or 410-222-1712 ext. 1.

What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.

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