Parenting styles differ, but we have become increasingly aware in the last few decades that physical punishment backfires and does more harm than good, when trying to get children to behave.
A new study adds to the scientific evidence that researches have amassed, which shows that corporal punishment — in this case, spanking — has long-lasting, damaging effects in children.
Researchers from Columbia University in New York found that kids who were spanked as five-year-olds were more apt to behave aggressively and have discipline problems later in elementary school; spankings at that age were also associated with lower vocabulary scores.
The study used data from a long-term study of children who were born in 20 different American cities between 1998 and 2000; 1,900 children were included in the study.
Researchers interviewed parents when the children were 3 and 5 years old, asking parents whether they spanked their children and how often. They then asked the mothers about the children’s behavioral problems. Researchers also administered a vocabulary test to the children at nine years of age.
The study results showed that 57 percent of mothers and 40 percent of fathers reported to have spanked their children when the children were three; 52 percent of mothers and 33 percent of fathers said they spanked their children when the children were five.
These numbers reflect national statistics, which show that a majority of children in the United States experience spanking at some point, despite all the evidence that physical punishment harms children.
In the above study, children showed more aggression and acting-out behavior when they got spanked by their mothers at age five. It did not matter if the spankings were infrequent or frequent. Children who were spanked by their fathers regularly at age five got slightly lower vocabulary scores.
Children who got spanked only at age three, but not at age five, got similar behavior and vocabulary scores as those who had not been spanked. This may show that as a child’s memories from their first three years of life fade, psychological or attention problems that the spanking would have caused later on are averted. With respect to the vocabulary test, it could also mean that parents who still spanked their children at age five were not talking to their children (thus, not increasing the children’s vocabularies) as much as the parents who no longer spanked their children at age five.
The study was published online recently in the journal Pediatrics.
Better Behavior Management Techniques:
Child experts continue to urge parents not to use corporal punishment, but to try more positive — and effective — ways of correcting a child’s behavior. Time-outs work, as long as they’re used infrequently. An even better approach is to reason with your child, maintaining a calm voice, giving them an age-appropriate explanation as to why you want them to behave is a specific way or do something specific.
There is also a lot to be said for positive reinforcement. Accentuating the positive truly is a good way to mold a child’s behavior, as children respond well to being praised for behaving or for doing something right. If there is a certain behavior that is problematic, for instance, you can post a chart on the refrigerator and award smiling-face stickers when your child has a good day or a good week. Soon, the good behavior will become natural and you’ll no longer need to dispense stickers!
If you are out in public and your youngster throws a tantrum, don’t start yelling or spanking them; this is unnecessary and only stresses out everybody, including you and everyone around you. Instead, lower your head to the child’s level, or raise theirs up to yours, and explain calmly that it is important for them to behave — “I need you to act like a big boy right now, so that we can get home and (add your plans)” are words that will appeal to a youngster, as they always want to be told that they’re a big boy or a big girl.
If your child behaves well while shopping one time, that evening at home, you could say something like, “I am really proud of the way you behaved like a big boy when we were at the mall today. Since you are getting to be such a big boy now, I can take you to the store with me more often.”
Younger children also thrive on treats, so, another way to get compliance from them is to offer them a favorite healthy treat when they behave or do what you ask of them.
And speaking of treats, hunger is a big reason why children will get cranky and impatient when they’re out running errands with you. So, one good way to avoid hunger-related tantrums is to always make sure that you have something quick and ready for your child to munch on, such as apple or orange slices, grapes, or a natural granola bar or tortilla chips. Another great advantage of always having an emergency healthy snack for your children to eat is that you won’t have to resort to buying expensive, non-nutritious, chemical-laden treats or fast food.
Another technique for promoting good behavior is to give your little one plenty of attention and affection on an ongoing basis. One-on-one attention is great; even when you have several children and a spouse who all need attention, try to have even a few minutes with each individual child as often as possible, and make sure you show your child love and give him or her praise for his or her unique individual qualities.
The appeal with spanking is that it can produce immediate compliance — immediate results. But keep in mind that finding other ways to handle problem behavior, such as taking the time to explain a situation to your child, reasoning with the child, or teaching them to negotiate and compromise will produce more positive results in the long run, and you will be teaching your child valuable communication skills that will stay with him or her for life.