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Why You Need to Stop Spanking Your Kids

Photograph by Twenty20

A mom of a toddler recently asked me how to correct behavior. She tried spanking. She tried the timeout chair. She tried taking things away. Nothing worked. The more consequences she handed out, the more her child seemed to “misbehave.” This mom is not alone.

Part of the challenge of the toddler years is that rapid brain and physical development and shifting emotions can create the perfect storm of risk-taking, selective listening and pushing back against limits set by parents. In short, they know how to say “no,” and they’re not afraid to say it.

Little ones also tend to run on low impulse control during this time. They make decisions without thinking about the potential for danger or other natural consequences, which is exactly why negative discipline, like spanking and timeout chairs, doesn’t work.

You don’t have to take my word for it, though.

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A new study published in the Journal of Family Psychology shows that the more children are spanked, the more likely they are to act out, defy their parents, engage in aggressive and antisocial behaviors, and have both mental health problems and cognitive difficulties.

In short, this meta-analysis of 50 years of research on the topic shows that spanking only makes things worse. That age-old argument, “I was spanked and I turned out fine” doesn’t hold up in 2016. What we know for certain is that spanking not only fails to correct the behavior in question, but it also comes with both short- and long-term consequences.

Step away from your running list of undesirable behaviors and take some time to consider the kind of relationship you want to build with your child.

While that specific study focuses on the harmful effects of spanking, recent research from Iowa State University draws a connection between “harsh parenting” (defined as parents who reject, coerce, use physical aggression or are self-centered) and obesity and poor physical health later in life. This research shows that even when a harsh parenting style is buffered with a nurturing co-parent, physical health of the child is still compromised due to living in a state of chronic stress.

What we now know is that both spanking and good cop/bad cop are out. These parenting tactics lack effectiveness and come with huge repercussions. This doesn’t, however, change that fact that parenting can be very challenging at various stages of development. What’s a parent to do?

1. Search your soul

More often than not, I find that parents fall into a certain parenting pattern because they repeat the patterns of previous generations. To reject what our own parents did can be an emotional decision. It’s hard to feel at odds with how we were raised vs. how we want to raise our own children.

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We are not destined to repeat the patterns of those who came before us and to make a different decision isn’t to reject your own parents. In fact, the best way to figure out what works with your kid is to focus on the individual needs of your child. They’re all different. Not only are these outdated practices harmful to the development of children, there’s a solid chance they won’t show any clear benefits.

Step away from your running list of undesirable behaviors and take some time to consider the kind of relationship you want to build with your child.

2. Look for clues

We know that all behavior is communication, but sometimes it’s hard to figure out what children are trying to say when they’re screaming and flailing.

I always encourage parents to keep a trigger tracker when it comes to figuring out the source of tantrums and misbehavior. It’s a simple tool, but it can be a big help. When your child is in a compromised state (tantrum, not listening, talking back, etc.) jot down a few notes: What happened just prior to the incident? When did your child last eat? How much sleep did he get last night? Were there any clear triggers?

The best thing you can do (for you and your child) is get to know what makes your kid tick.

When you log behaviors for a few days, a pattern will begin to emerge. Once you see the pattern of behavior, you can begin to find solutions that work for your child.

3. Parent the personality

It’s easy to hand out rules and consequences: The rule is (insert rule here), when you break it (this happens). In some ways, this tactic makes sense. Clear boundaries do help kids internalize a sense of right from wrong and take some of the guesswork out of the day-to-day business of a being a kid.

Here’s the thing: All kids are different. All kids have individual needs and respond to discipline in different ways. Highly sensitive children crumble when voices are raised. Highly energetic children sometimes fail to slow down long enough to even hear the feedback.

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The best thing you can do (for you and your child) is get to know what makes your kid tick. When you understand your child’s personality, you can parent him in a positive way that meets both of your needs. Will your kid make bad choices sometimes? Yes. Childhood runs on trial and error. They don’t always get it right. That doesn’t mean that your interactions and redirects have to be negatively charged. You can use positive corrections to help your child change course without the tears and tantrums that tend to result from negative parenting practices.

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