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Posted April 16, 2010

Firm Parenting: The pros and cons of spanking

by Daniella Girgenti

It’s safe to say that physically hurting a child as a punishment is wrong. But most parents have been back and forth on whether or not batting the bottom of their children is an effective and merited penalty for misbehaviour.

According to a recent Pediatrics online article, leading U.S. pediatric associations, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association, do not believe there are any pros to spanking a child. These associations cite research that suggests aggressive punishments like spanking lead to aggressive behavior in children.

However, on the other side of the fence, spanking is also a form of negative reinforcement – an understood and accepted method of teaching children to stop bad behavior by responding with equally (or more) negative behavior. For example, your little girl continuously sticks out her tongue. In order to stop this behavior, you respond to her by spanking. The theory of negative reinforcement means that your little girl will understand that keeping her tongue where it should be will stop the unpleasant response of a hit to her behind.

Lianne Castelino and Andrea Howick, each moms of three and co-founders of WhereParentsTalk.com, have built this parenting community by listening to parenting experts and parents alike – leading them to believe that spanking is a definite no-no.

“The correlation is clear to me,” says Andrea. “Showing your child that aggressive behavior is an appropriate response to less-than-perfect conduct can lead to a slew of problems like being violent towards their peers, or even lowered self-esteem due to the belittling nature of a physical punishment.”

“More than that, it simply doesn’t answer any real questions concerning the poor behavior that brought on the spanking in the first place,” adds Lianne. “All spanking will do is tell your child that they did something bad. It doesn’t explain why it was bad and what they should have done instead.”

Parents who end up relying on spanking are not alone. The frustration that a parent feels when a child consistently acts up can understandably lead to less-than-ideal disciplining. So what do you do to solve a child’s bad behavior while also maintaining your own sanity?

Lianne and Andrea explain that the important thing is to guide your child to better behavior by being firm, patient and positive.

“Take the time to see what the real problem. That is, is it that your son keeps hitting his little sister or is it that your son feels his little sister gets too much attention?” says Lianne. “Teach your son that his sister is younger and therefore not as responsible as he is when it comes to dressing and feeding herself yet – a supportive and positive way to help him see that he is behaving inappropriately.”

The Pediatrics online article concurs with this approach, citing that “non-physical” disciplines like “time-outs” can also better serve our impressionable children - still illustrating to the child that they have done something wrong without relying on severe and corporal discipline.

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