Does smacking work?
February 26, 2012
The current era of supernanny and naughty steps suggests that we should all be quite firm with our children. I have probably been quite soft with my 3 year old son up until now but I am gradually enforcing timeout combined with a system of rewards to change his behaviour for the better. So is the common sense view that being kind but firm, the best way for bringing up your child?
The other day, a friend said to me that she smacked her son for aggressive behaviour. Her son is 8 months older than mine and his aggressive behaviour has certainly diminished over the last year. In contrast, my son is still being quite aggressive towards other children. Although I wasn’t tempted to copy her behaviour, it did make me question whether I had the right strategy. So what does psychological research say about physical punishment?
Gershoff (2002 ) examined 88 studies conducted over the last 62 years looking at the effects of physical punishment on children. The 88 studies had looked at everything from aggression to mental health. They found that when parents physically punished their children, the children were more immediately compliant. However, the children displayed more aggressive and anti-social behaviour later on. They also had worse mental health and had an increased risk of being a perpetrator or victim of physical abuse. Another study found that children who had been physically punished by their parents were far more likely to be aggressive as adolescents (P. Cohen, Brook, Cohen, Velez, & Garcia, 1990).
Gershoff (2002) gives the example of a parent who spanks their child for running into the street. The parent intends the child to learn that such a behaviour is dangerous, yet the child may only learn that he or she should not run into the street when the parent is around. Furthermore, the child may experience anger, fear and distress from being smacked and this may prevent the child from attending to or understanding the parent’s message.
So the next time, someone suggests to me that smacking my child might work as a discipline strategy. I can feel more confident that it isn’t. What’s your opinion?