Spanking Doesn’t Teach A Child To Hit
The “spanking teaches hitting” belief has gained in popularity over the past decade, but has little factual basis. The distinction must be made between abusive hitting and nonabusive spanking by parents. A child’s ability to discriminate hitting from disciplinary spanking depends largely upon the parents’ attitude with spanking and the parents’ procedure for spanking. There is no evidence in the medical literature that a mild spank to the buttocks of a disobedient child by a loving parent teaches the child aggressive behavior.
The critical issue is how spanking (or, in fact, any punishment)is used more so than whether it is used. Physical abuse by an angry uncontrolled parent will leave lasting emotional wounds and cultivate bitterness and resentment within a child. The balanced use of disciplinary spanking, however, is an effective deterrent to aggressive behavior with some children.
Simons et al.4 studied 332 families to examine the both impact of corporal punishment and the quality of parental involvement on three adolescent outcomes — aggressiveness, delinquency, and psychological well-being. They found a strong association between the quality of parenting and each of these three outcomes. Corporal punishment, however, was not adversely related to any of these outcomes. This study proves the point that quality of parenting is the chief determinant of favorable or unfavorable outcomes.
Remarkably, childhood aggressiveness has been more closely linked to maternal permissiveness and maternal negativeness than even abusive physical discipline.5
It is ridiculous to imply that children would never hit others if their parents would only exclude spanking from their discipline options. Most children in their toddler years (long before they are ever spanked) will naturally attempt to hit others when conflict or frustration arises. The continuation of this behavior is largely determined by how the parent or caregiver responds. If correctly disciplined, the hitting will become less frequent. If ignored or ineffectively disciplined, the hitting will likely persist and even escalate. Spanking can be a useful component in an overall plan to effectively teach a child to stop aggressive hitting.
4. Simons RL, Johnson C, & Conger RD. Harsh corporal punishment versus quality of parental involvement as an explanation of adolescent maladjustment. J Marriage and Family. 1994; 56:591-607.