Family Health

Spanking and Discipline

How do you dish out discipline in your household? If spanking is in your arsenal for keeping little ones in line, it’s important to know what the experts have to say about the long-term effects of this kind of punishment.

Recommendations on spanking

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued a new statement regarding discipline. It’s not surprising that it is largely against spanking or hitting your child. 

Studies show that when it comes to discipline, spanking, hitting or speaking harshly to your child simply don’t work. These tactics are not only ineffective, but they also can cause long-term damage to your child’s physical and mental health. In fact, new evidence suggests it may even harm the child by affecting normal brain development.

The vicious cycle of spanking

Spanking has been shown to increase aggression and anger in children. A study completed in 20 large U.S. cities showed that parents who spanked or hit their children were caught in a very negative cycle. When they spanked children for misbehavior, the misbehavior increased, causing more spanking. 

Spanking also teaches children that if they’re frustrated, it’s OK to hurt someone. Children who are spanked may be more likely to hit or strike others when they experience frustration or if they do not get what they want.

The repercussions of spanking

Spanking or physical punishment can cause long-lasting effects. Children who are spanked repetitively show higher levels of the hormones associated with toxic stress, and scans of these children’s brains show less gray matter. These children tend to show less impulse control and performed lower on IQ tests.

Verbal shaming can be equally as harmful as physical abuse. Children who are yelled at show greater risks of depression as teenagers. Children who suffer from verbal abuse also show increasing behavior problems. 

What is the answer?

Use positive discipline techniques. For example:

  • Model behaviors you would like to see in your own children.
  • Set rules and limits, and stick to them.
  • Give consequences if children do not follow the rules.
  • Redirect bad behavior. Distract your children.
  • Set your expectations for behavior and communicate them to your children.
  • Catch them being good and praise good behavior.

Successful strategies for parenting

It’s important to remember that as kids grow, your strategies need to change. What worked as effective discipline at one age, may not work at the next.


  • Set basic rules and make sure all caregivers are on the same page.
  • Use positive language such as, “Let’s sit in our chair” rather than “Don’t stand.”
  • Save “no” for safety situations such as the child playing near an outlet or near the top of the stairs.
  • Babies learn by imitation. Demonstrate behavior you would like your baby to learn.
  • Distract and replace negative activities you would like your child to be involved in.


  • This age group is starting to learn the rules, but also likes to test the limits to see what they can get away with. Offer positive praise for good behavior and ignore behavior that is not in line with what you expect.
  • Teach your child not to hit or bite, and model safe behavior at home. If your child hits or bites, take him out of the situation.
  • Short time-outs may be necessary for the child (or for the parent).
  • Anticipate triggers for tantrums. Be prepared with snacks and try not to miss nap time.


  • When it comes to conflicts between siblings, remember that it’s important for the parent to remain neutral and not choose sides.
  • Begin teaching children to treat people as they want to be treated.
  • Teach children that it’s OK to feel mad, but that it’s not OK to break things or to hurt people when they are angry.
  • Give your child choices and set limits on those choices.
  • Assign age-appropriate chores and give praise for finishing them.

Grade-school children

  • Teach and reinforce the concept of right and wrong.
  • Review the rules of the family and follow through with consequences or removal of privileges when those rules are broken.
  • Have a good balance of privileges and responsibility, offering more privilege when the rules are followed.
  • Be a model for your child, and practice patience and respect for others so your children will see how to act.


  • Continue to model patience and respect for others.
  • Communicate the rules and expectations.
  • Get to know your teenager’s friends.
  • Praise your teen for making good decisions, such as avoiding alcohol, drugs and smoking.
  • Talk to your teen every day. Let your teenager know you are there to support him, but also set and enforce the rules. It’s a fine balance.

If you are having a difficult time with discipline and your child, talk to your Methodist Physicians Clinic pediatrician and know that you are not alone. Taking a time-out as a parent can also be restorative and give you a bit of perspective.

About the Author

Pediatrician Dr. Elizabeth Walenz loves seeing kids grow as well as helping them lead long and healthy lives. She is especially interested in nutrition, growth and development.

Dr. Walenz sees patients at Methodist Physicians Clinic.

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