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Who Spanks a Baby?

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson


Who spanks a little baby, someone just a year old, who can barely walk and can scarcely talk? What parent would hit a child who can’t even tell the difference between right and wrong?

Nearly one in three parents do, that’s who.

A study by researchers at University of Michigan of 2,788 families of children aged about 15 months found that 30% of parents had spanked their baby at least once in the past month. The problem with spanking of very young children is that it sets off a cascade of other effects with long-term consequences.

First of all, early spanking sets up a habit of spanking that parents find difficult to break. Spanking a baby who is, obviously, unable to understand what he did wrong, is clearly not intended as discipline aim at teaching better behavior. Instead, spanking of babies demonstrates a parent’s frustration and inability to control her anger. Once hitting is established as a way of dealing with anger, parents are likely to hit without ever considering other, less violent means. It becomes the first resort, not the last resort.

Second, spanking is bad for babies, who are particularly vulnerable to psychological harm. The developmental task of infants is to develop a strong bond with a parent – a secure attachment – that serves as the foundation for social interactions throughout life. Children who fail to develop a secure attachment as infants struggle to get along with others. Because spanking seems completely random and meaningless to a baby, who cannot understand the connection between what she just did and a parent’s anger, spanking undermines the baby’s trust in her parent and her attachment.

And, finally, spanking is just plain dangerous for babies, who are quite breakable.  According to researchers, parents in the study who spanked their infants were likely to be investigated sometime over the next four years by child protective services.  CPS visits when there is evidence of harm, including bruising, broken bones and brain damage. Tiny bodies are no match for adult anger.

No research has found that spanking improves children’s behavior. In fact, harsh parenting is associated with children’s poor school achievement, bad behavior, and problems with mental health. Certainly, spanking babies makes no sense.

What does make sense?

  1. Redirect your child. Instead of spanking, simply remove the baby (gently!) to another location or give her something else to play with. Block her access to something forbidden or put it out of her reach.
  2. Pick him up and go for a walk outside for a few minutes – or if you’re outside, go back inside for a little bit. The change of scene often stops a crying jag or an episode of bad behavior. Just stay calm and gentle as you do this.
  3. Stop what you’re doing and give your child your full attention. Get down on the floor with him and play together for a few minutes.
  4. Notice when you are already crabby. Don’t take your anger at someone else out on your child. Take a deep breath and remember what’s important – your baby’s happiness.
  5. Hugs not hits. A bit of cuddling and fun will turn around a fussy, troublesome baby. Be sweet and bring out the sweetness in your child.

Being a parent isn’t easy and it takes a lot of self-control.  You will become a more loving, responsible parent if you can resist the spanking habit when your child is just a baby.



© 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.