Spanking Hurts A Child’s Body, Heart, and Brain

Sep 24, 2021
Spanking Hurts A Child’s Body, Heart, and Brain
Spanking Hurts A Child’s Body, Heart, and Brain

Even the most patient parents may have had to struggle with the urge to spank their beloved children at one time or another. Until about 1990, spanking was a widely accepted form of discipline in both the home and classroom. Today, experts view spanking, defined as an open hand hit on the arm, leg, or bottom, as a form of corporal punishment that is just as damaging to children as other more aggressive forms of physical abuse.

Our kids, especially our toddlers and pre-schoolers, are working to learn so many things at once: boundaries, discipline, listening, safety, respect, authority. Unfortunately, they do not always listen to instructions the first time a parent explains. However, studies show that spanking your child does not help them figure out any of these themes. In fact spanking only sets your child up for more future struggles.

What happens initially?
When you try to control your child’s behavior with physical aggression (spanking), you send the message that it is acceptable to hurt someone if they do not behave exactly how you want them to. This may stop the undesirable behavior in the moment, but will not change the behavior long-term.

According to a study done by the University of Texas at Austin, as reported by Psychology Today, the short term effects of spanking led to:

  • Damage to relationship between parent and child
  • Anti-social behavior
  • Depression
  • Increased aggressive misbehavior
  • Low self-esteem

How does continuous spanking/hitting affect children as they develop?
As children grow, they begin to internalize lessons learned in early childhood and then apply what they learned at home to their own social situations. If they learned that spanking is an acceptable way to show frustration and forces people to change their behaviors, they will likely use physical aggression towards others outside of the home.

In the same study done by the University of Texas, researchers observed the long-term effects of spanking included:

  • Anti-social behavior
  • Mental illnesses
  • Anxiety
  • Use of the same punishment on their own children

Recent studies how that chronic stressors such as spanking decrease cognitive functioning in children. This suggests that spanking “may influence brain functioning in the areas of learning and memory, potentially leading to lower cognitive skills.” Spanking makes it harder for children to do well in school in the future, further elevating the risk of poor mental health and anxiety.

How does spanking affect your child’s relationships?
Spanking will cause your children to be afraid of you and eventually hostile towards you. It does not teach lessons or foster a relationship built on respect. The more you try to control your child’s behavior with corporal punishment, the more likely your child will have behavioral problems throughout childhood and as a young adult.

Since the parent-child relationship is the first and most impressionable relationship in anyone’s life, it is unsurprising that what a child learns early on in this relationship will affect relationships much later in life. Research shows that spanking a child causes long-term consequences, such more aggression towards authority figures including parents, and peers, siblings, and partners.

For the last 20 years, the evidence has continued to mount that spanking your child is not an acceptable or healthy form of discipline. Spanking your child will harm their cognitive abilities, their behavior outside of the home, and damage your relationship with them in the long-term. Spanking is seen as a “quick fix,” but good discipline takes time and patience.

When you have an overwhelming challenge in parenting your child, your TCFAP health care professional can guide you towards effective communication and healthy boundary-setting tools. In more challenging situations, our behavioral health specialists led by Dr. Dobos can help with children of all ages.

Call us at 203-229-2000 or click here to make an appointment. The Center For Advanced Pediatrics is here to help.