Why do pysychologists oppose spanking?

Posted by | May 13, 2012 | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

I just watched an Australian 60 Minutes TV episode about parents spanking (“smacking”) their children. I watched a mother hit her children as hard as she could on the rear. The mother seemed to spank the kids every day, for every misbehavior.

The show host indicated that some countries ban spanking, as recommended by psychologists and other experts. Australia and the U.S. do not.

Why do psychologists oppose spanking?  Below are several reasons. Spanking:

1. Sets a bad model: Getting your way thru using violence against someone smaller and less powerful. This is especially a danger when the parent shows anger when spanking.

2. Can lead children to act more violently.

3. Can make the parent a conditioned punisher, so that the child feels punished whenever the parent is present.

4. Can harm the parent-child relationship.

5. Can lead to strong negative emotions in a child — essentially a stress reaction.

6. Can lead to the development of undesirable avoidance behaviors, such as lying.

7. Is so reinforcing for some parents that they use it more and more to the point of emotionally or physically abusing their child.

8. Looks and sounds inhumane, especially when accompanied by angry speech and facial expressions.

To these arguments, parents usually say that there is no good alternative. But there are! Parents can control child behavior by encouraging specific good behavior, setting rules, explaining the purpose of the rules, reinforcing (e.g., praising) good behavior, modeling good behavior, creating engaging activities for children so that they stay out of trouble, and using nonviolent forms of punishment, such as time out from reinforcement (go sit on the stairs) and response cost (e.g., no TV for an hour).

Trying to convince parents to replace spanking with other parenting methods is very tough. What do you think about spanking? Ought there to be a law against it?

John Malouff, PhD, JD
Assoc Prof of Psychology


  • Sharon Conroy says:

    Hi John,
    My opinion on smacking your own children has been very mixed over the years. My eldest child (now in his 20s) was smacked when little for (what I considered) extremely bad or dangerous behaviours. This worked until about the age of seven years old, then I found he rebelled. At about the same time I began (due to my employment) doing a lot of 1-2 day courses on behav. mod for children, eg. How to manage children with ADD. There I learnt a lot about how to manage unwanted behav. without smacking. Yes the techniques really do work if you put the effort in. My youngest child is now seven and I did smack her about once every few weeks for extremely bad things up till five years old, as I don’t think smacking works on older children. I don’t think there should be a law against it, but on the other hand, I do believe that smacking a child every day, all the time for everything that the parent considers wrong is a form of abuse.

  • Lara says:

    I think it’s interesting that violence is called assault unless it is against a child, and then we “soften” the word to call it smacking, or discipline. I have a 4 year old, and violence would never work to improve his behaviour, only to worsen it. If a child is afraid, they will do what they need to do to protect themselves.

  • jmalouff says:

    Hi Sharon and Lara. Parents have strong views, pro and con, regarding smacking children. I will provide a link here to a recent study that suggests negative effects of smacking on the mental health of children as they reach adulthood: http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/life/smacking-linked-to-mental-disorders-20120720-22exf.html. I am not convinced that the smacking was causal in the study, althought the researchers tried to eliminate other explanations.

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