by Paula Bank, MD, Ph.D., Family & Children’s Center Psychiatrist

Most adults today were spanked sometime during their childhood. Decades ago, it was an accepted practice for disciplining children.

Today’s parents, however, have a new and improved arsenal — honed by research and experience — that goes to the heart of what discipline is meant to achieve: teaching. And many are using the updated methods with great success and less regret.

True, spanking is effective in getting children’s attention, but it teaches them unintended messages. Chiefly, that hitting (or spanking) is an acceptable means for controlling others’ behavior. It doesn’t address the core of the behavior you’re trying to modify; it only teaches compliance.

While research indicates that most parents who do spank are well intended, doing so out of concern for how their children will turn out, it also shows that spanking has numerous short- and long-term negative consequences for children.

Among them:

Spanked children are more likely to do poorly in school and less likely to finish college.
The more children are spanked, the more likely they are to be aggressive with others, even into adulthood.
Among teens, there is a high correlation between spanking and delinquency.
Spanking erodes the parent-child bond as children learn to fear rather than trust their parents.
Spanking can escalate to physical abuse. Once you hit, it’s easy to hit again, with increasing frequency and force. Parents need to understand that using an object to spank a child, leaving a mark or spanking on bare skin is considered child abuse.
Redirecting, timeouts and 1-2-3 Magic are healthy alternatives to spanking. They involve no physical aggression from parents yet they effectively interrupt the child’s misconduct and teach more positive behaviors.

Redirecting works well for very young children, such as toddlers. You simply divert their attention from whatever is causing the problem and focus them on a new toy or activity.

Timeouts work well for all ages, even parents. It removes children from the situation just long enough for them to calm down and figure out how to regulate their behavior. When parents feel ready to snap, timeouts can provide an opportunity for them to calm down as well, ensuring that any and all discipline is done without anger directing it.

1-2-3 Magic is a simple warning system that gives children an opportunity to change their behavior on their own. In book form, 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 is available at local bookstores.

Even if spanking has been a long-used tool in your family, it’s a good idea to consider alternatives. Spanking may get you the results you want in the short-term, but its nonphysical counterparts can teach your children how to regulate their emotions and behaviors for life.

As published in the October 2005 Edition of the La Crosse Tribune.