Spanking sparks aggression, does little to reduce behavior problems

( -- Discipline -- whether it's spanking, yelling or giving time-outs -- may sometimes do little to reduce children's behavior problems, a new study indicates.

Researchers at the University of Michigan and five other universities looked at practices and perceptions of discipline in six countries. They found that spanking leads to more child and anxiety, regardless of the country.

So what should parents do to teach right from wrong?

"It may be that the long-term investments that we make in children, like spending time with them, showing that we love them and listening to them, have a more powerful positive effect on behavior than any form of discipline," said Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, U-M associate professor of .

The study, appearing in the March/April issue of the journal , examined the associations of mothers' discipline techniques with children's aggressive and anxious behaviors in China, India, Italy, Kenya, Thailand and the Philippines.

Unlike other studies, this project collected information from both mothers and their children. Participants included 292 mothers and their 8- to 12-year-old children.

Researchers used the sample to address two questions:

--When multiple discipline techniques are considered at the same time, which forms of discipline emerge as having the strongest associations with children's aggressive and anxious behaviors?

--Are significant associations between discipline practices and child behaviors moderated by the extent to which mothers and children perceive these practices to be normal in their communities?

The 11 discipline techniques analyzed included: teach about good and bad behavior; get child to apologize; give a time-out; take away privileges, spank; express disappointment; shame; yell/scold; withdraw love for misbehavior; threaten punishment; and promise a treat/privilege.

Mothers and children were asked about the frequency with which others in their communities used each discipline technique.

"When children perceive a discipline technique to be (normal) within their culture or community, they may be less likely to evaluate their parents' use of it as aberrant or objectionable," Grogan-Kaylor said.

The research, he said, showed that the relationship of some kinds of discipline with varied according to how common that type of discipline was used in the community. However, despite small variations, there was a strong consistency in the results across countries.

The bottom line: giving a time-out, using corporal punishment, expressing disappointment and shaming were significantly related to greater child anxiety symptoms. Child aggression resulted from spanking, expressing and yelling.

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Apr 01, 2010
Think about it, if kids are constantly learning from your example, when you spank them you're basically sending one of these messages:

"I am frustrated with your lack of cooperation, and I hit things that don't work for me!" see also: "Assault is an appropriate response to anger."

"Failure leads to direct physical pain."

"Your parents are an obstacle to be overcome."

I'm not saying spanking is assault. But it is unwelcomed and intentional. Young kids don't understand the difference between an open hand and a closed fist (especially if they've never experienced one) so how would they know (or really fathom) your actions are dialed down as a disciplinary measure?

Apr 01, 2010
Every child I've ever seen in my entire life who wasn't spanked (responsibly), or disciplined strictly, was either a raving lunatic, or was hindered by their own lack of direction whether only in early life or eventually in later life.

"It may be that the long-term investments that we make in children, like spending time with them, showing that we love them and listening to them, have a more powerful positive effect on behavior than any form of discipline,"

It sounds like they're taking samples of spanked children from families who are completely dysfunctional. All of the above and more are expected, on top of "corporal punishment" (what is this, law enforcement or something?). Yelling is obviously not a part of the package, the parent is supposed to keep their cool 110% of the time. When I was spanked as a child (until around 14yrs), my father always sat me down and told me that he loved me and exactly what I did in detail and why I needed to be disciplined. (continued)

Apr 01, 2010
I've also seen the opposite happen from parents who try to baby their children constantly, always making up for them and trying new psychological techniques, only time outs and groundings etc. They end up just learning to play the system to get what they want.

All in all, parents should NEVER yell belligerently, spank out of anger, and should definitely never lose their cool. This is when everything breaks down anyway, regardless of how you try to raise your children, if the parents act like they're not in control of the situation, the child starts emulating the parents, breaking down screaming or retreating to their room or a safe place and end up having emotional disorders.

Apr 01, 2010
spanking works, worked on me well. Didn't spark aggression in me either. The only people I know who don't spank have little disobedient hellions for kids.

Apr 01, 2010
Spanking when used right will do good for the kid imo..of course there are people who spank out of spite and anger...that is wrong.

Yes, there is a difference between physical discipline(lesson to be learned) vs. physical beatings (just rage).

Punishment sometimes is an act of love :) A method to teach your child not to do whatever is wrong and to learn the consequence.

It's like feeding fatty foods to loved might be a nice gesture, but it is not healthy and possibly damaging if not controlled.

And yes i was spanked when i was a child. I think it did me good.

A 'time out corner' only drove me to madness. it doesn't make me think of what i did wrong...quite the opposite when i was a kid. The mentality afterwards was 'don't get caught' and think of ways of doing what i was doing(whatever action that got me in trouble) better.

Apr 01, 2010
I agree with the pro spanking concepts shared here. I was spanked, when needed, and remember it well. My parents also told me why I was getting a whippin so i understood it wasn't out of anger but discipline. my two sons turned out fine with me using the same discipline. My second wife has two daughters and both are spoiled brats who don't contribute around the house, talk back, cuss at their mom and still throw tantrums at 18 when they don't get there way. That's proof enough for me! Anger has no place in discipline but consistency works wonders.

Apr 01, 2010
I agree with the article. I've never spanked my children and they are both very good, well behaved, and well adjusted kids. My oldest will be 17 in a couple of months. I've never had any problems with him at all. My youngest is 7.5 and is one of the most well behaved and sweet children I've ever met.

It's not hard to teach children how to survive as contributing members of society, it just takes a lot more time and patience than just hauling off and spanking them.

Discipline doesn't have to be punishment. I give mine a lot of guidance and tell them when and why things are not okay to do. They make mistakes, which is just fine, as long as they do what they can to correct those mistakes.

Apr 01, 2010
Yes, exactly mamabearT. People here seem to be confusing "lack of punishment" with "lack of discipline".

I'd agree with several posters who said that a child who isn't taught self-discipline turns into a raving lunatic. But there is more than one way to skin a cat, so to speak, and every kid is different. Teaching a child self-discipline doesn't need to involve strong negative reinforcement... unless the kid has a IQ that is in the toilet, of course.

Apr 01, 2010
Which method of discipline works best depends entirely upon the child, and also upon consistent application.
Some children require very little, others quite a lot.
IMO, yelling, screaming, witholding love/affection are never justified, and spanking is a last resort.
Children require continuous guidance- they learn new things every day, and so there is always the likelihood that some new opportunity to transgress will present itself which they may attempt, with or without a complete understanding that they are in some way doing wrong.
Discipline should ALWAYS be accompanied with a conversation regarding why the behavior makes discipline necessary. Most children will get it, sooner or later, even if they do now and again deliberately do a dirty deed.
If they are not taught the difference between right and wrong, and that actions entail consequences, they end up unable to assess risks vs benefits, and suffer from ill-developed decision-making skills.

Apr 02, 2010
The only wrong type of discipline is inconsistent discipline.

You need to associate something negative with negative behavior, and something positive with positive behavior.

If you ignore misbehavior even a little, your control will slip.

Never let a child cry about something they "want". They need to understand that crying is only for traumatic moments, physical and mental, and that you will tolerate nothing else.

You need to always follow through with your threats and promises, no matter how much it hurts you.

If you keep your child's respect you will not often have to do more than explain why they shouldn't do something.

If you want to know if your ready to be a parent, get a puppy. If it is well behaved at all times, your future children will be too.

Apr 02, 2010
No one method works for all children.

I find that one firm spank to get their attention and make the point is all that is needed, spanking "sessions" are about a parent's frustration and anger.

Apr 02, 2010
I don't buy that reward treat privilege either. That is just conditioning and makes kids lazy because they perceive that doing anything must be rewarded. My personal favorite disciplining came from learning about the natural balance of karma. That is something a parent can teach - and ya consistency is all important.

Apr 02, 2010
You don't need spanking. Physical aggression is bad for children. children don't understand what you are doing. They only perceive you acting physically against them for not cooperating with your wishes. They will learn to hit other children who don't cooperate with them.

Children are designed to learn. Teach them, explain to them what can happen if they do bad things. Children do look up to their parents and really want to please them.

Apr 04, 2010
I remember being spanked as a child for something as ridiculous as "backtalk" and it only inspired hatred in me towards that person. It didn't teach me anything except that this person was not to be trusted, as I was a just a child and therefore not his equal, I was to be afforded less self-respect than an adult. This type of parenting really gets under my skin, yet I realize that there are some children who simply don't respond to kind reasoning and repeatedly misbehave because of a genetic trait in their brain that makes them care more about achieving the reward of what they want at that particular moment than to care about the consequences later. This is a trait we all seem to have as children but some seem to have it even more than others. These are often the problem children who grow up to become criminals. The dilemma here is that spanking is just one of those same consequences they ignore. I must admit I am at a loss as to how to best discipline this personality trait.

Apr 04, 2010
"I am frustrated with your lack of cooperation, and I hit things that don't work for me!"
"Failure leads to direct physical pain."
"Your parents are an obstacle to be overcome."

While I do agree that talking to your child is foremost, if you are not willing to punish your child when they do wrong, what you are really telling them is that they can do anything they want without having to pay the consequences.
I see this all the time in grocery stores, where the child is screaming and yelling because they know they will get what they want if they make a big enough fuss. The parent usually gives in just to shut them up.
The ineptitude of those parents would be laughable, except that the child will eventually have to learn these lessons the hard way because the parents are either too lazy to be consistent, or because a parent assumes that a 4 year old understands adult logic.

Apr 14, 2010
I wonder if this study would get nearly the amount of interest if it found that spanking children makes them behave better?

It seems like the researchers were trying to prove something when they decided to spend money over the course of 2 years to study spanking. Most likely if they thought the tried and true way worked (spanking the kids to improve behavior) they would not have found it necessary to pay to prove otherwise.

Apr 17, 2010
I'm sorry I can't post this article online. I've read it. Aggression is defined as being mean, being a bully, teasing other kids, etc. These are by subjective ratings by the mother. They are phrased so that it's clear these are not desirable aggressive traits, not like "standing up for your rights" or "defending your younger sister". These ratings are compared at 3 years of age and 5 years of age. There are fancy statistical ways of controlling for things like the kids being aggressive already at 3 years of age (thus "causing" parents to use spank them), and parent history of having been spanked or abused themselves. It still comes out that children who are spanked, EVEN MILDLY, are about 50% more likely to use socially maladaptive kinds of aggression at 5 years of age.

(More comments below.)

Apr 17, 2010
As I read it, you can interpret the data as the authors do (increased spanking leads to increased undesirable forms of aggression) or you can interpret it as saying increased spanking leads to increased perception of aggression by the mother-- mom thinks her child is getting worse when he's not. Either result is bad, and in a way, the second interpretation is more damning.

For me, I think while spanking may not cause irreparable harm, for most kids, it does no good. You delude yourself if you think it's for the benefit of the child.

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