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Spanked Kids Misbehave Again in Under 10 Minutes. Why?

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson


If you spank your child you might be convinced that you’re doing it “right.” You might think that spanking is good for a child and not only stops bad behavior but leads to improved behavior over time. A new study confirms that you would be wrong on both counts.

Thirty-three parents who said they spank agreed to be recorded over four to six evenings. Most of the parents were the children’s mothers, and were married, well-educated, white, and worked outside the home. Their children were, on average, a bit younger than four. The recordings captured 41 instances of corporal punishment (spanking, slapping, shoving, shaking, pinching, and so on) that happened mostly while the parent prepared dinner or was bathing the child before bed.

The scientists, led by psychologist George Holden from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, found that these parents spanked in three ways that are especially troubling: they spanked in anger, they spanked quickly instead of as a last resort, and they spanked for minor misbehaviors, not in response to serious problems or dangerous behavior. In addition, parents hit their children repeatedly, instead of giving a single swat.

As you know by now, I do not believe spanking is effective but I understand that many parents do spank. So, if you hit, I invite you to observe your own spanking behavior.

  • Quick to hit? In the study, parents spanked quickly, within half a minute of noticing a problem behavior. If they tried first to redirect children, restate rules, or even send a child into timeout, they didn’t try very long. Often they hit first.
  • Hit for what? In the study parents hit their children for silly things like sucking fingers, eating improperly, and getting out of a chair during dinner. In 90% of the hitting incidents, the trigger behavior was unimportant, even just normal child stuff.
  • In the mood to hit? Recordings revealed that parents were angry before they hit their children. Their children didn’t make them angry; mothers were angry already. Most parents spanked on impulse and emotionally, instead of thoughtfully.
  • Hit how often? Parents in the study hit repeatedly. One mother hit her child 11 times in a row. Another parent spanked a baby only seven months old. Although previous studies (based on parents’ own estimates) determined that parents hit two-year-olds about 18 times a year, this study using actual real-time recordings found that parents hit two-year-olds at a rate of 18 times a week.
  • Hit with what result? Many parents say they spank because it’s the only way to get through to their children. But it didn’t work that way for parents in this study. The recordings reveal that children who were spanked misbehaved again in just 10 minutes.

If you spank, slap, or hit your children, take a long, hard look at that. How effective is corporal punishment, really, in making your life more serene and happy? How better behaved for how long are your children as a result of being hit? How much better do you feel about yourself as a result of being a parent who hits?

Corporal punishment has been associated in other studies with everything from low school success, obesity, bullying behavior and delinquency. If spanking isn’t effective at home anyway, is it worth the risk of derailing your child’s future? I think not.

Please, think before you hit.



© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Join Dr. Anderson in an online conference for teachers and parents. Find out more at Quality Conference for Early Childhood Leaders.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.