October 31, 2017


Why parents should never spank children.

There is no research evidence that spanking improves child behaviour. On the contrary, spanking is associated with aggression, antisocial behaviour, mental health problems and negative relationships with parents.

Spanking — usually defined as hitting a child on the buttocks with an open hand — is a common form of discipline still used on children worldwide. However, to date, spanking has been banned in 53 countries and states globally.

The use of spanking has been hotly debated over the last several decades. Supporters state that it is safe, necessary and effective; opponents argue that spanking is harmful to children and violates their human rights to protection.

As two scholars with extensive research experience and clinical insight in the field of child maltreatment, and with specific expertise related to spanking, we would like to move beyond this debate.

The research clearly shows that spanking is related to an increased likelihood of many poor health, social and developmental outcomes. These poor outcomes include mental health problems, substance use, suicide attempts and physical health conditions along with developmental, behavioural, social and cognitive problems. Equally important, there are no research studies showing that spanking is beneficial for children.

Those who say spanking is safe for a child if done in a specific way are, it would seem, simply expressing opinions. And these opinions are not supported by scientific evidence.

The evidence on spanking

There have now been hundreds of high-quality spanking research studies with a wide variety of samples and study designs. Over time, the quality of this research has improved to include better spanking measures and more sophisticated research designs and statistical methods.

Researchers can help move the debate forward by studying the impact of positive parenting interventions.

The scientific evidence from these studies has consistently shown that spanking is related to harmful outcomes for children.

This has been best demonstrated in two landmark meta-analyses led by Dr. Elizabeth Gershoff. The first paper, published in 2002, reviewed and analyzed 88 studies published in the 62 years prior and found that physical punishment was associated with physical abuse, delinquency and antisocial behaviour.

An updated meta-analysis was most recently published in 2016. This reviewed and analyzed 75 studies from the previous 13 years, concluding that there was no evidence that spanking improved child behaviour and that spanking was associated with an increased risk of 13 detrimental outcomes. These include aggression, antisocial behaviour, mental health problems and negative relationships with parents.

We now have data that clearly demonstrates that spanking is not safe, nor effective. Of course this does not make parents who have used spanking bad parents. In the past, we simply did not know the risks.

Towards positive parenting strategies

Evidence from over 20 years of research consistently indicates the harms of spanking. There is also increasing global recognition of the rights of children to protection and dignity, as inscribed in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and in targets within the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to eliminate violence. Taken together, these tell us that spanking should never be used on children or adolescents of any age.

It is important, now, to find ways to help parents use positive and non-physical strategies with their children. Research already shows some evidence that parenting programs specifically aimed at preventing physical punishment can be successful.

Some evidence for reducing harsh parenting and physical punishment has been found for Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), the Incredible Years (IY) program and the Nurse Family Partnership (NFP). Other promising home visiting initiatives and interventions taking place in community and paediatric settings are also being examined for proven effectiveness.

The ConversationAs researchers, we also need to reframe the research we are conducting, the questions we are asking and the discussions we are having — to move this field forwards and to ensure the safety and well-being of children.

The academic journal Child Abuse & Neglect has published a special issue, containing original research and discussion papers containing further strategies. It is free to all readers for a limited time.

Tracie O. Afifi, Associate Professor, University of Manitoba and Elisa Romano, Full Professor of Clinical Psychology, University of Ottawa

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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  • Does anybody have any suggestions how to make a small child understand that hitting hurts? Some kids during it when arguing and either don’t understand that it hurts others, don’t care if they hurt others etc. Some kids don’t “fight back” to defend themselves others do. Now our youngster has just decided to try it out on us. We’ve tried talking to him to explain that it hurts and other reasons it is not allowed etc. He laughs when we tell him it hurts and says he doesn’t believe us. He doesn’t believe his grandparents either. One even had a bruise to prove it, He is old enough to know better as the saying goes. I am to the point of calming myself down before giving him one smack, just hard enough to let him know it does hurt – not enough to make him really cry or mark him – just to let him know it does hurt.

    • Smacking/spanking is not the answer to showing him it hurts. Take away his favourite toy/teddy/book etc. Remove privileges like TV or IPad time..


  • I agree. Spanking is not safe and not effective. Of course this does not make parents who have used spanking bad parents. In the past, we simply did not know the risks. My parents spanked us and had the best intentions, but we live in different times now.


  • For me, as a child, the fear of a smack was all that was needed to curb my misbehavior. However, today, it is such a contentious topic that other means are sought. I find that confiscating certain items or time-out in their room (no devices allowed) is enough to see a turn around in attitude and actions.


  • I dont agree with smacking. Its abuse. There are other ways to discipline your child.


  • I still deeply resent being smacked for things my brothers had done, not me; it’s a punishment I avoid with my kids.


  • Such a controversial topic, those of us smacked as a child can see the benefit, but there is too much abuse around and where do we draw the line? Find another consequence that works.

    • Sorry but no. I don’t see any benefit at all!! And I was smacked as a child. It’s just use of power against defenseless kids.


  • Smacking is not allowed here now. The younger ones know that if they do not behave they lose use of certain things. Though very rarely a tap on the hand will warn them something is not to be done , that is used in dangerous places.


  • I don’t smack my children however I was smacked as a child and was much better behaved than many children around today. Maybe the fear of a smack is still needed since other discipline methods don’t seem to be doing the job for some children?


  • I don’t condone smacking, our approach is to talk with them. It gets through to them much better.


  • I have never hit my child and don’t agree with physical punishment.


  • Responding to bad behaviour with violence never made sense to me. It just teaches kids how to be violent when they’re frustrated. Having said that I have smacked my son when he was jumping up and down in the bath and I didn’t have time to wait for him to stop and listen to why its a bad idea to jump in the air on very slippery porcelain surrounded by glass. It wasn’t hard but boy did it work.


  • Completely agree. Smacking also creates mistrust in the people that should take care of you. I was smacked a lot as a child, and I grew up with a very low self-esteem. Not difficult to understand why.


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