Spanking has negative effects on child development. What are the alternatives to physical discipline?
Spanking and other forms of physical punishment, such as shaking, slapping, hitting, and pinching, have negative effects on children’s psychological and social development.
Feeling physically and psychologically secure is crucial to a child’s development, and parents are their children’s primary source of security. So, when kids are physically punished, they feel insecure.
Consequences of physical punishment
Some stressed-out parents resort to hitting their children in an attempt to regain control of the situation. However, shaking, hitting, or pinching a child is not an effective form of discipline. No studies have ever found any benefits associated with physical punishment.
When a child is physically punished, there are a number of repercussions:
The child thinks they’re a bad person, feels like they’ve disappointed their parents, and begins to develop low self-esteem.
They start to believe that problems can be solved with physical violence.
They obey only in the short term, for long-term physical punishment can lead to anxiety, depressive behaviours, fear, aggression, an urge to get revenge or rebel, and a desire to take back power.
They build up feelings of fear and anger, which may come out later. This is why a child who is regularly hit is more likely to be violent with other children or with their parents.
They may be defensive and distrustful of the adults around them.
They may have cognitive impairments, like a language delay or attention or memory problems.
They may have trouble once they enter school.
They’re more likely to become a violent adult.
“My parents spanked me and I turned out fine!”
“It’s possible for someone who was spanked not to experience negative effects. However, for many people, this will not be the case. Many children who are victims of physical punishment have their development disrupted. They also learn that physical violence is a good strategy for dealing with conflict.”
Marie-Ève Clément, Canada Research Chair in Child Abuse
Alternatives to physical discipline
You are your child’s first role model. Your influence on them depends primarily on the quality of your relationship. A relationship based on love and mutual respect empowers the child and helps them develop high self-esteem and a positive attitude.
- Make sure you set clear, age-appropriate rules with logical consequences. For example, if your little one knocks over their cereal bowl, have them help you clean up the mess.
- Work as a team with your child’s other parent or their educator. Sharing experiences and observations helps you better understand your child’s needs and agree on boundaries and what behaviours should be encouraged.
- Take a quiet moment to explain the rules to your child, and expect that you’ll have to repeat them often.
- Praise your child when they behave to reinforce their good behaviour.
When you need to express your disappointment, displeasure, or anger, clearly explain your feelings your child. Don’t wait until you’re at the end of your rope to tell them that their behaviour is unacceptable.
- Ignore some of your child’s disruptive but otherwise harmless behaviours. If you don’t focus on them too much, they’re likely to go away on their own.
- Back off, breathe, and respond: step away and take a moment to cool off or send your child to their room for a little bit while the tension subsides.
- Seek outside help if you find yourself frequently getting angry at your child. Getting support is essential to maintaining a good relationship with your child.
Things to keep in mind
Physical punishment has no benefits for children and impacts their self-esteem.
It’s important to take a step back when you feel your anger is running high and you may lose your temper.
With support, you can develop healthy strategies for disciplining your child in a caring way.
Scientific review: Solène Bourque, psychoeducator
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: February 2018
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Benoît, Joe-Ann. Le défi de la discipline familiale. Montreal, Les Éditions Québec-Livres, 2014, 256 pp.
Bourcier, Sylvie, and Germain Duclos. “La fessée au banc des accusés,” in Le grand monde des petits de 0 à 5 ans. Montreal, Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 2006, 176 pp.
Racine, Brigitte. La discipline, un jeu d’enfant. Montreal, Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 2008, 136 pp.
Racine, Brigitte. Le respect : une valeur pour la vie. Montreal, Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 2016, 236 pp.
Observatoire des tout-petits. “Violence et maltraitance : Pourquoi faut-il s’en préoccuper?” tout-petits.org.