Spanking: Busting a Myth and Increasing the Learning Ability of Children
Debunking an Ineffective Parenting Strategy, and Offering Alternatives
Parenting can be extremely frustrating, as can teaching, and if you’ve chosen to homeschool your kids the stress of doing both is a lot to take. If the frustration gets to you, it can be tempting to take drastic steps. There are some steps, however, that are too drastic for a person to take under any circumstances—not just because they’re cruel, but also because they’re counterproductive. One of those is spanking, which is clinically tied to problems reading and behaving that last a lifetime.
Now, don’t get me wrong, we’re not here to lecture you on what you should and shouldn’t do, that’s not our job; we just want to give you every edge possible to enhance your parenting AND teaching ability.
We’re also aware of how controversial this topic is, and that it may offend some people, however, I’m so confident that using reason and negotiation with your children-instead of corporal punishment-will pay off handsomely in the long run-both educationally speaking and family relationships wise-for whoever acts on this information, that we felt obligated to share this astounding and data driven research. As the iconic French philosopher, Voltaire once said, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” And ironically, France just banned spanking, that’s 52 countries and counting that frown on spanking.
If you’re a parent, spanking may actually make your job harder in the long run. Your kids won’t be any more obedient if you spank them, and they may develop behavioral problems over and above what you’re trying to correct. And if you’re a homeschooler or an educator, spanking is certain to make your job harder, because your students will develop learning disabilities and attention problems.
Especially for parents, though, spanking often gets normalized, and if you’ve started to depend on spanking it can be hard to find other strategies to correct bad behavior. In this blog we’ll explain alternative forms of punishment.
Spanking Doesn’t Work
Unless you’re reading pretty far-flung philosophy, it’s a settled question that you do not have the right to hit another person. You certainly don’t have the right to hit your spouse, and in most states you don’t have the right to hit your pet. Why would you have the right to hit somebody small and defenseless?
The most common defense of spanking is that it’s in the child’s best interest. Spanking your child, so the argument goes, should only be done “with love”, should only be done as a last resort, and should only be done to deter them from serious behavioral problems. If your child is persistently defiant and won’t listen to reason, for example, they need to be spanked. In the future, they’ll be cured of that bad behavior and your life with them will go back to normal.
The problem is that this doesn’t work. And that’s attested by the overwhelming majority of child development researchers. A review of the literature—that is, just about everything written on the subject of spanking—by child psychologist Elizabeth T. Gershoff, published in Child Development Perspectives and available in full online, shows that spanking is always less effective than nonviolent punishment. It doesn’t deter anything you’d want it to deter. Not single instances of disobedience, not overall patterns of bad behavior.
Why doesn’t it work? You can read Gershoff’s section on that, but basically, when you spank a child, you’re teaching them that they only need to behave when they’re under the immediate threat of physical violence. Leave them alone, and they’ll revert to bad behavior until you catch them again. Spank your kids and you’re dooming yourself to waste your time chasing bad behavior forever.
Not only that, but you’re failing to model the appropriate behavior, which means that your child doesn’t have a better idea of how they should act than they did before you spanked them—and that, again, means more time that you’ll have to spend, years from now, teaching them how to behave. You can save yourself that time by simply choosing not to spank today.
Children who have been spanked are more likely to be aggressive, from early childhood on. This is consistent across cultures, as another paper by Gershoff proves. They’re more prone to depression and anxiety and they’re more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. Pertinently for this blog, they’re also less motivated to learn and their reading skills suffer, which means that if you’re an educator as well as a parent, you have an extra reason not to spank.
In other words, spanking is more than just painful—it’s useless. If you choose to spank your child, you are only going to make your life and your child’s life more difficult.
Spanking produces short term compliance and long term rebellion. @yesphonics Click to Tweet
So How Do You Stop?
If spanking is already part of the way you typically discipline your children, it can be hard to shift away from it, even as your children get older. (According to an article by Murray A. Straus, as recently as 1995 half of American parents continued to use corporal punishment until their kids were 12 years old.) But think about this: the negative effects of spanking are “dose-dependent”, meaning that the less you spank your children, the better off they’ll be. You want to dump it as a punishment tool as fast as possible.
With that in mind, you’ll want to find some nonviolent alternatives you can incorporate into your family routine. Katherine Kvols at Positive Parenting has a list of 9 such alternatives.
Kvols’s most in-depth suggestions have to do with providing logical consequences. If your kids break a neighbor’s window, to take Kvols’s example, you should make sure they mow the neighbor’s lawn and wash their car until they can pay back the cost of the window. That way you’re forcing them to face the consequences of their actions and make up for what they did, rather than simply punishing them physically.
Children need to know, when they screw up, that they could have acted a better way, and that if they act like that in the future, they’ll be rewarded. That’s the basic philosophy; if you follow it, you won’t have to worry about your kids internalizing the idea that punishment is arbitrary and painful.
You can read Kvols’s article to understand the techniques. For now, understand how bad spanking can be for your kids and how important it is to stop doing it. You don’t want your kids carrying an albatross around their necks for the rest of their lives just because you let stress get to you.