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Spanking As Discipline? One Expert Weights In

Written by Rebekah Cook

We spend a lot of time thinking about how we’re doing as parents. The love that we have for our children is so huge that, at times, it’s completely breathtaking. Throughout our kids’ lives, we tell ourselves, “I just want the best for them!” We make choices in hopes that we are providing the most appropriate environment for our children to thrive. This is why disciplining children is probably one of the most challenging parts of parenting. How can we set boundaries, teach them the ins and outs of life, and foster autonomy while telling them “no”? There are many types of discipline, spanking being the one that often creates a gulf between authoritarian parent and the gentle democratic one. Because it’s such a big topic, we tapped Dr. Kevin Coleman, a child clinical psychologist at the Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, to answer a few of our questions (and hopefully some of yours).

What do we know about the repercussions of parents spanking children?
“Although there is some disagreement in the scientific community, there is a much stronger and more compelling body of research that indicates a correlation between parents’ use of corporal punishment and negative developmental outcomes, such as increased anger, low self-esteem, depression, delinquency, and antisocial behavior later on in life. There is virtually no scientific support linking corporal punishment and positive developmental outcomes.”

What are some reasons that would support parents spanking children?
“Some researchers would suggest that judicious use of corporal punishment in conjunction with other behavioral techniques, such as reasoning with a child, can be an effective form of behavioral modification.”

What are some reasons that negate parents spanking children?
“In addition to the research that suggests a correlation with increased externalizing behaviors later on in life, the biggest concern is that parents often resort to this technique out of their own frustration, anger, and sense of lacking control over their child. Consider a very common scenario of a child displaying oppositional or defiant behavior—the parent experiences a sense of frustration, embarrassment, and/or anger, and then reacts by physically striking the child in order to deter them from disobeying. In addition to the child learning to fear his parents, the child is seeing an unhealthy expression of frustration and anger (physical aggression) modeled, one which he or she is more prone to repeat.”

Is there a happy middle ground?
“I would contend that the happy middle ground is what we call ‘authoritative parenting.’ This style of parenting is associated with the most successful child outcomes. It involves communicating standards to a child in a way that exudes warmth and respect, and places an emphasis on explaining the reasoning for rules and consequences, so that children can begin to internalize their own decision-making abilities as a distinct and respected entity in the world. Parents operating from this framework don’t simply communicate what children can and cannot do, they also communicate why in an effort to promote their child’s own individuality, critical thinking skills, and autonomy.”

What is the number one thing you are concerned about in regards to parents spanking their children?
“I suppose my primary concern is for the safety of children. As one of society’s most vulnerable populations, there are far too many children who become unnecessary recipients of their parents’ displaced anger or frustration.”

Any other comments or things to be aware of as parents deciding best practices in healthy discipline?
“I think a good rule of thumb is to consider what your child will learn from observing the style and behavior you choose to use when disciplining them. Children are constantly evaluating and seeking to emulate the behavior of the closest adults in their lives. If you want to see them learn to handle their anger and frustration in a controlled and healthy manner, show them how it’s done!”

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  1. Rennie Gade says...

    Instead of getting the spankings I deserved as a boy from my mother and my oldest sister, I was punished by the withdrawal of their affection. The impulsiveness in my nature was never spanked out of me, and my emotional development stalled in my teenage years.

    Getting my bottom soundly spanked when I stole money, made nuisance phone calls or recklessly played with matches would’ve done much to close the book on those mischievous episodes – but that punishment never came. The fact is, a child’s bottom can be a uniquely effective teaching aid. Unfortunately, I was never properly taught the critical lesson of Actions & Consequences.

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