Instead of reviewing recent research, today I’m going to give my opinion on a topic often discussed by parents:
Parents often disagree about the use of corporal punishment. Should we spank? Is it okay to smack a child’s hand when he touches a light socket? What if a child runs into the street? Should we swat her backside?
Answers to these questions differ depending upon the parent. Even among child psychologists, opinions about corporal punishment are vast. So, what is the right answer?
My opinion on the topic of corporal punishment depends upon several factors.
I believe parents should always think through the following five areas when determining whether to spank:
1. The age of the child
Children between the ages of 2 and 6 will likely benefit from occasional corporal punishment. Swift and direct, it can cause children to stop defiant or inappropriate behavior immediately. Children younger or older than these ages are less likely to benefit as easily or as quickly from corporal punishment. Younger children will not connect the behavior with the punishment. Older children may change behavior just to avoid the punishment, not because they’ve learned a lesson. In addition to this, these older kids may begin hiding misbehavior rather than changing the character traits that may influence it.
2. The behavior
Innocent mistakes and unknowing errors do not call for punishment. Instead, parents should educate the child about what he’s done wrong. However, when children blatantly misbehave in the face of direct instructions or they are in the middle of committing an act by which they could hurt themselves (i.e.: running into the street without looking), a swift spanking on the backside or a swat on the hand may be appropriate.
3. The form of corporal punishment
As just mentioned, one or two firm spankings on the backside or a swat on the hand is the only form of corporal punishment I tend to endorse. Using a belt, spoon, switch, etc. is not something I endorse due to the fact that adults may not recognize the intensity of the swat or the power they place behind the smack with the belt. They may unwittingly injure the child. Some experts may argue for using an object so that the child will associate the pain with the object rather than the hand of the parent. However, if corporal punishment is done in a harsh and intense fashion, using an object instead of a hand doesn’t matter. The child will feel the physical and emotional pain of the punishment whether a hand or belt is used.
4. The background of the parent
I recommend that parents who have experienced physical abuse themselves do not use corporal punishment. Simply due to the fact that a history of abuse can have multiple ripple effects, I believe it is a safer policy to find other means of discipline if a parent has this experience in his/her background. Some other forms of discipline might include:
- Natural consequences (letting nature takes its course) – i.e.: if the child leaves a jacket at school over and over, she may have to go to school without one.
- Logical consequences (using consequences that fit the crime)- e.: if a child loses a lunch pail for the hundredth time, he may have to do extra chores to pay to buy a new one.
- Time-out (from positive reinforcement)- this can be helpful if used correctly – one minute per year of a child’s age and the child must not receive any attention during the time-out period. (Attention could be in the form of angry looks from the parent, yelling, etc.) Parents must not use time-out for every infringement – it can lose its effectiveness if used too often.
5. The context in which punishment is given
If corporal punishment is used in the context of a loving environment in which the parent explains the misbehavior and then administers the punishment (typically 1 or 2 firm swats – causing pain but not bruising!), the punishment can be effective and useful. However, if a parent disciplines with corporal punishment in anger or as a harsh reaction to misbehavior, it can cause fear and emotional insecurity in a child.
My final comment is this:
Often parents want to know the best way to punish misbehavior. However, wouldn’t it be better to find a way to help kids avoid misbehavior? What if there was a way to decrease misbehavior and increase positive behavior? It may be an old saying, but the best way to do this is to “catch them being good”. Look for ways your child is behaving and comment on it, encourage it, build it up. Children are more likely to behave in positive ways when we acknowledge that they are doing so.
* As stated earlier, psychologists, doctors and parents disagree about the use of corporal punishment. The ideas stated above are my opinions based upon many years of thought, research, personal parenting experience and therapeutic work with parents and children.
Until next time,