What research says about smacking kids

What research says about smacking kids

What research says about smacking kids

In the past, parents spanking their kids in public might not have raised many eyebrows, but times have changed. Nowadays, if a parent gives their child a smack during a tantrum at the supermarket, they're likely to get some disapproving looks from other shoppers.

Recent studies found that only about 15% of younger folks, aged 16 to 24, think it's necessary to physically discipline children. Compare that to 38% of older adults aged 65 and above who still believe in it. Smacking is currently illegal in 63 countries, including Wales and Scotland. Even though it's not as common, some parents still resort to spanking their children, despite growing evidence that it's harmful to children.


Nevertheless, it has been argued that decisions on whether to smack a child or not, should be based on what research shows is best for the child. Research shows that smacking children is not just ineffective but also bad for their psychological development. It is viewed that it is a form of violence that harms children


Imagine you're at the park with your kid, and suddenly they dash towards the busy street after their ball. Your heart races, and you grab them just in time, saving them from a potentially disastrous accident. Phew! You're relieved but also shaken and maybe even very upset. But here's the thing, according to Elizabeth Gershoff, a professor who's studied this subject area for 20 years: Sure, you're scared and upset, but hitting your kid isn't the answer. Your panic already shows them how serious the situation is. Your words, your tone, your face—they all scream, "That was dangerous!" Hitting just isn't necessary.

Gershoff says if you're resorting to hitting, you've already lost control. There are better ways to handle the situation without resorting to violence. She highlights that in moments of crisis, the child is already scared by what happened and can pick up on the parent's fear too. By calmly explaining the danger and consequences, parents can effectively teach without resorting to physical punishment.

Why do adults still hit kids? Well, according to Gershoff, it's often because they misunderstand the child's actions. They might think the child is purposely trying to annoy them or get back at them, when really, it's just a mistake. Like when a preschooler colors on the wall thinking it's a giant canvas. But hitting a child can give the adult a sense of power and release. When they lash out, the child stops, and the adult feels like they've regained control. It's like a quick fix for their frustration or anger. However, this doesn’t help the child understand what they have done wrong and why they were hit, it just instills fear in them.

Interestingly, studies show that adults who were hit as kids are more likely to hit their own children, thinking it's normal. Even some doctors who support hitting were hit themselves as kids, going against official guidelines. The practice of hitting children has a long history, rooted in the idea that children were less than fully human and could be treated as property. In the U.S., it wasn't until 1974 that child abuse was even made illegal, and even then, certain forms of physical punishment remained legal.

Some communities, like conservative Christian groups, historically believed in harsh discipline to "civilize" children. Today, opinions are divided within religious communities, with some leaders still advocating for physical discipline.

In the U.S., Black families are more likely to use physical punishment. However, experts argue that physical punishment is not a Black cultural tradition but a result of racial trauma and historical oppression.

Interestingly, adults who were hit as children often become hitters themselves. This cycle of trauma can perpetuate the harmful practice, as people unconsciously repeat the hurt they experienced.

Some adults may try to justify hitting children by believing it's necessary for discipline or teaching lessons. However, research consistently shows that physical punishment is not effective and can lead to numerous negative outcomes for children, including increased aggression, mental health problems, and impaired relationships.

A recent study led by UCL researchers found that children who experience adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as being smacked at the age of three, are more likely to suffer from poor mental health and behavioral problems up to age 14.

The researchers analyzed data from over 8,000 children born in the UK in 2000-2001, collected at various points throughout their childhoods. They found that two-thirds of the children had experienced at least one ACE by age three, with parental depression, harsh parenting, smacking, and parental alcohol misuse being the most common.

The debate over whether it's okay to smack a child is still a hot topic, especially in England. Recently, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawistirred things up by saying that disciplining children should be up to parents.

While smacking is banned in 63 countries, including Wales and Scotland, it's still legal in England and Northern Ireland. This means parents there can choose to use physical discipline on their kids.

The controversy around smacking centers on questions of discipline, parenting styles, and the rights of children. It's a complex issue that sparks passionate arguments on both sides.

The debate over smacking children has been reignited, especially after Scotland became the first UK nation to ban the practice last year. Experts now argue that England and Northern Ireland should follow suit.


Gershoff found that the impact of physical punishment on children's behavior and mental health is indistinguishable from that of physical abuse. Both lead to increased antisocial behavior and mental health problems in childhood, with long-term effects into adulthood.

Brain imaging studies show that children subjected to physical punishment exhibit similar brain activity patterns as those who have been physically abused. This suggests that the stress reaction caused by physical punishment can have profound effects on a child's brain and mental health.

Despite growing momentum to outlaw corporal punishment globally, physical punishment remains legal in US homes, with some judges excusing it as a form of discipline. In schools, corporal punishment is still lawful in 19 states, primarily in the South, where nearly 100,000 students are paddled each year.

However, public opinion and practices are gradually changing, with a decline in the percentage of parents reporting any spanking at all over the past few decades. Yet, there's still much work to be done to shift away from physical punishment towards more positive and respectful forms of discipline.

Ultimately, the goal is to protect children from the cycle of violence and create a safer and more nurturing environment for them to grow and thrive.

Struggling to manage emotions can lead parents to resort to physical punishment, affecting children's emotional well-being. Equip your family with the tools to understand and express emotions with these feelings and emotions flashcards. Visit https://tranquilletherapy.com/products/feelings-and-emotions-flash-cards to learn more and foster a healthier emotional environment for your children.

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