What happens when you smack your child? Most parents who condone smacking as a form of discipline would say that when they smack their child, the unwanted behavior stops and the child becomes better behaved. However, News Australia reports that a new study reveals that there are far more damaging effects that can come from smacking your child.
A team of researchers made up of representatives of the University of Michigan and the University of Texas worked together to study more than 160,000 children and the risks associated with smacking a child. According to the study, it is estimated that four in five parents around the world decide to use smacking or some other kind of physical violence as a means of discipline. And while Dr. Elizabeth Gershoff, a representative of the research team, noted that parents undoubtedly choose to smack their child for what they perceive to be the right reasons, unfortunately, the outcomes are almost always negative.
“We found that although parents use spanking or smacking with the goal of improving their children’s behavior, it is linked consistently with the opposite outcome. The more children are spanked, the more aggressive and poorly behaved they are. Spanking is also associated with several unintended outcomes.”
The study found that when a child is smacked, the negative outcomes can range from low self-esteem to low cognitive ability, negative relationships with parents to mental health problems, antisocial behavior, and even heightened levels of aggression in the child.
While many parents will disagree that a decision to smack your child can lead to such dramatically negative consequences, this is not the first time that such a finding has been made. In fact, News Australia reported on a UNICEF report released just two years ago which found that a child’s development can be threatened if they are disciplined with smacking or slapping.
The following are nine reasons why a decision to smack your child is never going to be a good one.
1. Strength Shouldn’t Equal Power
Your Tango makes the point that when, as a parent you smack your child, you are sending the message that it is your size and strength that allows you to determine what is right and what is wrong, what behavior is acceptable and what behavior isn’t. And while it can be tempting for parents to be shortsighted enough to think that their child will always be little, there may come a day when your child is bigger than you are. Does this mean that your child, now the bigger and stronger person, is allowed to physically discipline you and decide what of your behavior is right and wrong, what is acceptable and what is unacceptable?
2. Violence Should Never Be The Solution
Smacking is undoubtedly a form of violence, so when you smack your child to stop them from doing something that you don’t like, you are sending the message that violence is an effective way of solving a problem or of getting somebody to do what you want them to do. Will this still seem like a good idea when your child hits someone else to get them to do what they want them to do?
3. There Is Nothing Wrong with Your Child
In the eyes of your child, your primary role is to love and protect them. So when you turn violent on your child, you are sending the message that the person who is supposed to protect them would rather harm them instead. To a child, who is intrinsically self-focused, this sends the message that there is something wrong with them. After all, why would a parent want to hurt the very person that they supposedly love the most?
4. The Importance of Trust
At its core, a decision to smack your child can rock the foundation of trust that normally exists between a child and their parent. In essence, your child trusts that you have their best interests at heart, so when you smack your child you leave your child wondering why you have decided to hurt them and whether you are still somebody that they can trust.
5. Fear Can Cause the Brain to Shut down
Your Tango quotes the work of Dr. Bruce Lipton who posits that it is biologically impossible to learn and perform higher level thinking tasks while being fearful. When you smack your child, you cause your child to feel fear which triggers the fight/flight instinct in their brains and causes their little systems to be overrun by cortisol and adrenaline. When this occurs, higher order frontal lobe thinking shuts down in favor of reflexive responses triggered by the fight/flight instinct, making it biologically impossible for your child to learn.
6. Lying, Hiding, and Manipulating Will Be Used To Avoid Punishment
When you smack your child you teach them that they need to do a better job of lying, hiding, or manipulating the situation next time so that they don’t get caught. Smacking and other forms of physical violence are not an appropriate response to whatever it is that your child has supposedly done wrong, so have no effect in deterring the child from repeating the same behavior in future: except to make sure that they don’t get caught next time.
7. Children Love to Mimic Their Parents
Ask Dr Sears brings up a very interesting scenario in their article on spanking and other forms of physical discipline. It is well-known that children love to imitate their parents and other adults that they love and respect. When you smack your child, you send the message that physically harming a child is just something that all parents do.
“There is a classic story about the mother who believed in spanking as a necessary part of discipline until one day she observed her three- year-old daughter hitting her one-year-old son. When confronted, her daughter said, ‘I’m just playing mommy.'”
8. What Kind of Memories Do You Want Your Child to Have?
It is an unfortunate fact of life that humans tend to remember negative experiences much more vividly than positive ones. If you think back to your own childhood, what are your most vivid memories? Do you most easily and clearly remember the hugs you received from your parents or the times that your parents were physically violent towards you? Many parents argue that they are loving to their children most of the time and only physically discipline them rarely, or when it’s absolutely necessary. Unfortunately, no matter how rarely it occurs, the times that you smack your child are most likely going to be the memories that your child keeps with them right through to adulthood.
9. Smacking Can Cause Sexual Dysfunction
Natural Child points out that the bottom is an erogenous zone in childhood, so slapping or smacking on a child’s bottom can create an association in the child’s mind between sexual pleasure and pain. The confusion between pain and pleasure can lead to adults desiring physical punishment (and, in particular, “spanking”) as a means of attaining sexual pleasure.
Dr. Gershoff rightly states that parents need to be taught what they can do, not just told what they shouldn’t do. If this article has gone some way towards making rethink your decision to smack your child, here are four alternative discipline techniques that you can try, courtesy of a fantastic article about the alternatives to spanking at Positive Parenting.
Take a Moment to Calm Down
Oftentimes the decision to smack your child is made in the middle of a chaotic or stressful situation. Force yourself to count to 10 before you react, and if possible give yourself the opportunity to leave the room momentarily. It doesn’t take much time for your anger to cool down and for you to have the opportunity to think of an alternative way of dealing with the situation.
Do what you can to reduce stress in advance, so that you are less likely to be quick to anger when something stressful does occur. Giving yourself the opportunity to have some time alone, even just 15 minutes to take a walk outside or to spend some time by yourself in the bathroom or bedroom, can make you more able to handle stressful situations as they arise.
Be Firm without Being Violent
Deciding to abstain from smacking your child doesn’t mean that you let the child get away with behavior that you don’t deem to be appropriate. Sometimes, it simply takes firm yet kind words and eye contact to get your point across in no uncertain terms. There is no need to make threats or speak unkindly to your child, simply tell them exactly what you expect of them while making eye contact, and you might be surprised at how compliant your child can be.
It makes much more sense to give a logical consequence that relates to the action that has been taken. Perhaps your child was running in the house and broke a vase. If you smack your child, you have taught them nothing that relates to the unwanted action of running in the house. If anything, your actions have simply taught your child to blame the broken vase on someone else or to hide the pieces more quickly next time. A logical consequence would be to ask your child what they intend to do next.
Natural Child suggests a simple question like “I see you’ve broken the vase, what will you do to repair it?” The child might attempt to glue the vase back together, or may buy a replacement vase out of their allowance or by doing some yard work to earn the money. This approach allows your child to take responsibility for their actions and gives them the opportunity to rectify the situation in an age-appropriate way. But most importantly, your relationship with your child – and your child’s self-esteem – are both still intact.
[Featured Image by Fotolia/ AP Images]