Spanking Children Makes Them More Aggressive

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

The age old saying, "Spare the rod and spoil the child, " still influences the child rearing practices of our society. According to a survey done in the eighties, nine out of ten parents felt that spanking was acceptable in order to discipline a child. Perhaps, the reason for such a high acceptance of spanking may depend on the fact that parents love their children and care immensely about how their children turn out as adults. To achieve this purpose, parents wouldn't mind spanking if that's what it takes to fashion their child into a proper mold. Some parents take spanking to be a "necessary evil, " that is, that to raise a child into a law abiding, god-fearing, responsible and mature citizen of the society, they have to spank the child.

There is a good reason why we must look hard for other ways to discipline and cultivate the right values and attitudes in a child . Mental health experts maintain that spanking, especially repeated spanking, is harmful to a child in the long-term. Several studies have suggested that spanking makes a child aggressive. Children who are spanked become more aggressive towards other children than the children who are not spanked. Perhaps, when parents use spanking to control and discipline the child, that is, they spank to restrain the child, or make him or her to do something by means of physical punishment, that child in turn learns to control other children by physical aggression. When angry or upset, the children who are spanked try to punish or coerce other children by physical aggression. The opposite is also true, that is, that children who are not physically punished, behave less aggressively.

Strassberg and others of Vanderbilt University analyzed the school behavior of 273 kindergarten children and the parents' discipline methods at home. These children were from several different schools of Tennessee and Indiana. Observation of school behavior indicated that children who were spanked at home were more aggressive towards other children. Furthermore, children who were punished more violently at home were even more aggressive in school.

The same researchers further observed that in two-parent families, one parent's behavior may balance the behavior of the other. For example, if one parent spanked and the other one used non-aggressive methods, such as the persuasion or verbal explanation to regulate the behavior, the child did not exhibit high aggressive behavior. Most aggressive children, of course, came from homes where both parents spanked the child and acted hostile towards others.

Parental anger seems to be the most critical influence here. Let's admit, a lot of us parents when spanking a child are really upset and angry. We tolerate inappropriate behavior to a point and then we get really angry and decide it is time to spank the little miscreant. Usually the intention at this time is to punish rather than to educate the child. The prominent emotion during spanking is the parent's anger. The spanked children then imitate parental anger when they deal with other children.

Children experts advise the following alternatives to spanking:

 l. Use "time-out" when a child is behaving inappropriately. Time out interrupts the wrong behavior and gets the child out of the situation where such behavior is occurring. The length of time-out should be one minute for each year of a child's age. For example if a child is five years of age, the length of the time out should be five minutes. Calmly point out the behavior to the child for which the time out is given. Sit the child in a chair turned away from you. Put the kitchen timer within the hearing distance of the child, so the child knows when the time-out is over. 
2. Use reward and praise for the desirable behavior, so there is enough of an incentive for the right behavior. 
3. Ignore the child's antics and attention-seeking behavior if they are not hurting someone else. If those behaviors cannot be ignored, use time-out.
 4. If possible, distract the child to a new activity so the problem behavior can be automatically interrupted. 
5. Take care of your own stress level. Parents are more likely to use physical punishment when they are under stress 
6. Seek advice of other parents. Believe it or not, Kansas Children's Service League offers a national hotline for advising parents. The number for Parent Helpline is 1- 800-332-6378.
7. Attend parent training classes in your community.

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 



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