Hitting Hurts Everyone

Choosing physical punishment as your discipline strategy hurts both you and your child. It does not stop hurting even when the pain, anger and confusion subside. Parents choose physical punishment as a discipline style due to personal, cultural and generational influences.  Often an aggressive verbal or physical response is chosen by a parent due to underlying fear, a lack of knowledge about alternative behavioral responses or because of immediate safety and security concerns.

Every child must learn how to manage emotions, develop relationships and recognize, understand and respond to frustration and disappointment. Unfortunately, corporal punishment teaches the opposite and does not provide a secure stepping stone for the development of confidence, positive self-worth and effective self-regulation.

The fundamental harm of physical punishment is the cycle and culture of violence and bullying that it supports.  Although numerous age specific alternative discipline strategies such as emotion coaching, positive modeling,  reasoned discussions, time out, ignoring strategies and loss of privileges have been shown to be more effective than corporal punishment,  spanking, paddling and hitting persist and are practiced and condoned by up to 75% of American adults. About 200,000 children continue to be paddled each year in US schools. Although corporal punishment has been banned by the United Nations since 1989 it remains unratified by the United States and is still legal in schools in many parts of the US.

Corporal punishment has both short and long term negative emotional consequences. It is a primitive learned behavior that is both biological and passed on across generations.  It neglects the emotional and social skills that are fundamental for the social and emotional development of a child.  Physical punishment relies on the physical responses of surprise, fear, anger, shame and distress to teach a child. It neglects the power of a secure and positive parental attachment to provide a safe, secure and accepting environment to foster healthy exploration while establishing reasonable and acceptable boundaries.

Physical punishment is not necessary for children to learn about limits and routines.  Although spanking and other forms of corporal punishment foster short term regulation these techniques rely on primitive brain pathways based on fear, hostility and discomfort to learn new skills. Physical punishment has been shown to increase aggressive behavior in children and is less effective in teaching positive behaviors.  Corporal punishment increases the risk of hostile, disrespectful and spiteful behavior and fosters the belief that stronger and bigger always wins.

Discipline strategies that are age and developmentally appropriate focus on the part of a child’s brain that supports patience rather than fear and the ability to control emotions. Positive discipline strategies are essential and must be practiced consistently over many years. Although this part of the brain takes years to develop there are alternative strategies that have been proven effective.  Infants from birth though age 18 months respond best to distraction and environmental and antecedent management. Toddlers respond to modeling, praise and simple requests. Preschoolers respond best to clear and consistent simple rules and the offering of choices to achieve a sought after behavior.  The older preschool child responds well to time outs to provide a calming down period to allow heightened emotions to settle.

Discipline roadblocks are common. Parents must avoid expectations that are too high or too low. Temper tantrums must be expected and the cause of the temper tantrum must be sought and responded to. Temper tantrums are a sign of overwhelming emotion and indicate your child is asserting independence, disagreeing with rules and is unable to communicate underlying needs. Relying on physical punishment in this situation amplifies your child’s discomfort and further delays your child learning how to regulate emotion and develop reciprocal respectful relationships.

What should a busy parent do?  See behaviors through the eyes of your child. Avoid blame and pursue immediate, specific, age appropriate and consistent consequences. Do not forget temper tantrums are a normal part of your child’s development.  They start small and escalate. Always intervene early. For a negative behavior in an older child look for environmental, parental or temperament causes. Respond to the cause rather than the behavior and choose a strategy where you are able to stay calm and set limits that are not be too permissive or too strict.

Rely on praise, modeling, offering of alternatives, distraction and time out to teach your child.  Never lose control of your emotions and step back if you become emotionally upset. Never hit or embarrass your child out of love or anger and avoid both positive and negative punishments.

If you plan for misbehaviors and choose your battles carefully you will become the best role model for your child.