The ongoing debate about spanking heated up again this week, as this topic continues to capture the interest of the media and parents. I do not judge the intentions of parents who feel that spanking is an appropriate form of punishment. Fundamentally, parents love and want to protect their children, and prepare them for living independently in the world. However, if parents knew more about exactly what spanking does, they may be more inclined to choose other, more effective methods of discipline.
Spanking is ineffective for many reasons. Here are just a few:
- Spanking sets up stress responses in the child’s brain and body—it sends a signal of danger as opposed to safety.
- Spanking at the hands of a loved caregiver sends the child a mixed message about the reliability of relationships, which is essential to development.
- Spanking infants and toddlers, who cannot yet understand why they are being spanked, places them in states of fear. It is well documented that chronic stress inhibits brain development, resulting in fewer healthy neural networks.
- Spanking does not support the development of thinking necessary for making future decisions; emotional co-regulation and respect does.
- Spanking gives the message that striking out is an appropriate form of problem solving.
- Spanking leads to lower levels of self-control.
- Spanking provides an example that aggressive actions, not words, are the way to teach life lessons.
- Spanking promotes the idea that intimidation is a necessary part of obedience.
- Spanking undermines the growth of an internal standard by which to judge one’s own behaviors.
- Spanking does not help children learn, it makes them afraid.
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