For quite some time now parents have been counseled not to spank their children. Social scientists have reported everything from depression and anxiety to aggressive behaviors being evidenced in children who are regularly spanked as a form of discipline. For decades psychologists doled out advise about how to use spanking in a productive way. We have come a long way since that was the parenting method of choice. Yet surprisingly there is still some debate on the subject. While the majority of child development specialist counsel against spanking there are still some holdouts that recommend the practice.
Robert Larzelere, associate professor of human development and family services at Oklahoma State University, reports from his research on the subject that spanking was in fact an effective tool and seemed to work better in curbing negative behavior than 10 of 13 alternative disciplinary methods. His research focused on children between ages 2 to 6 years.
Countering Larzelere's observations are many other social psychologists including Susan Newman who is the author of "Little Things Long Remembered: Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day." She and others maintain that parents should not resort to spanking at any age and that there are many other preferable forms of discipline.
Research has provided us with enough information about the efficacy of spanking as a useful disciplinary tool. We have learned that children who are spanked at an early age tend to act out in more physical ways then children who are not. Adults who were spanked as children tend to spank their own children more often than those who were not. This makes perfect sense because it is the only form of discipline that is intuitive to them. It is what they know. It is also clear that the parent-child relationship suffers as a result of using spanking as the chosen form of discipline. It decreases trust of the parent by the child and encourages avoidance of punishment which can lead to sneaky behavior.
I recognize that there are two sides to this debate but I can honestly say that I have never advised, nor will I ever counsel parents to use spanking as a punishment. There are simply too many other options. Parents get frustrated and exasperated and in the end spanking is more about the parent's feelings then it is about an effective means of discipline. Having tools to deal with a child's misbehavior and having readily available consequences can help a parent to feel empowered and to regain control when their child is acting out. This is easier said than done but in the long run I feel strongly that the act of spanking can in some case be a slippery slope to more abusive behavior.
This topic can be a heated one among clinicians and parents, each side clinging fast to a strongly held belief about the practice. It would be interesting to hear from members here at DS about their ideas and practices on the subject. Just a note about that request: please respect other's opinions and comments and refrain from personal attacks. There is room for healthy debate on the subject.