Curious about who I am? Posts about health and natural birth Resources and posts regarding vaccines and informed consent Posts about Parenting and Relationships Spirituality and Life Lessons Email me Home

Research Confirms Risks of Spanking - So Why Are We Still Doing It?

Spanking is perhaps one of THE most strongly debated parenting issues out there and I can pretty much guarantee that no matter how I approach this subject someone will take offense or feel judged by it.

So, just in case -

Disclaimer:  I am not judging YOU. In fact, my consideration towards the act of judgment is that it results in a shut down of the free-flowing exchange of information and alternatively opens up the gate to tension, polarization and insensitivity. My goal in this post is to offer information that I have gathered – I urge every parent to use this as a catalyst to learn more.

Discipline is one component of proficient parenting and every family (and each parent) has a unique way of teaching what is/is not acceptable conduct.

In the United States, corporal punishment (CP) is used by parents of toddlers roughly 50% of the time as a means of communicating what is/is not tolerable. That number was seen to increase up to 94% when kids reach preschool age.[*][*] 

cor·po·ral pun·ish·ment
a form of physical punishment that involves the deliberate infliction of pain as retribution for an offence, or for the purpose of disciplining

**for the research referenced below corporal punishment signifies non-injurious, openhanded hitting with the intention of modifying child behavior

These numbers shouldn’t be all that surprising, after all, us parents learn how to parent from our own parents and in the United States corporal punishment has a strong tradition.[*][*] 

Fortunately, tradition transforms over time as the understanding and knowledge of a society is advanced and broadened. Unfortunately, societal change typically occurs at a much slower rate then the contribution of data is accumulated.[*]

The knowledge base of corporal punishment on children has grown over the last several decades building upon hundreds of research studies in several diverse fields: psychology, medicine, sociology, social work and education.[*]

What does the large majority of research reveal regarding discipline that incorporates CP?

Putting Kids at Greater Risk

The vast amount of data that has been accumulated over all disciplines supports that corporal punishment (physical discipline, spanking) is no more effective than other forms of punishment.  Most importantly, not only it is no more effective but this form of correction exposes the child to added adverse effects.[*][*] 

In an unprecedented degree of consistency, 94% of the 117 tests reviewed in an 88 study meta-analysis confirmed that CP is associated with an increase in harmful side effects (these studies controlled for ‘parental warmth which illustrates that CP is harmful even when it is performed by loving parents): [*][*][*]

Increase in:
Delinquency in childhood
Crime (as an adult)
Antisocial behavior
Physical aggression toward parent(s)
Physical aggression toward dating partner
Sibling rivalry
Vulnerability to stress

Decrease in:
Parent-child relationship
Cognitive development/abilities
Scores in educational achievement
Language comprehension

I understand not every child who is spanked or slapped for discipline purposes will develop all, or any, of the above negative outcomes listed – however, it is abundantly apparent that corporal punishment places a child at risk for both short and long tem negative effects.[*][*]

The Immediate Need to Adjust Behavior in Safety Scenarios

Effective discipline can be analyzed in three time periods: immediate, short-term (hours/days) and long term (months/years).[*]

There remains a consensus that spanking is the most effective means in stopping misbehavior in an immediate need. In fact, this is one of the main listed benefits in using CP.

For example, if your child repeatedly grabs pots off the stove or is baiting his/her luck running into traffic - safety is paramount and if spanking works best, then this might trump any future adverse risk(s) that may or may not come to fruition.

If corporal punishment is effective when other methods fail in this instance, it would debatable to eliminate spanking. However, tremendous evidence exist from short-term prospective studies on this particular issue that show this is not the case.[*] 

This may not be all that surprising, but, when it comes to toddlers, research shows that every mode of discipline has a high short-tem failure rate. This is because it takes a great deal of time and many repetitions for standards in behavior to be internalized.[*][*] 

But when it comes to spanking, at least two other factors interfere with it being the best choice.

1 Interference of Cognitive Function

For a young child, being struck by a parent is a frightening event. The negative emotions felt be young children (sadness, anger, humiliation, shame, fright, stress, etc.) are able to result in cognitive deficits which impede learning and may be one explanation for the elevated failure rate among spanking in the long-term.[*][*] 

2 Absences of Explanation, Strategy, & Resolution in Conflict Situations   

Parents may offer an explanation along with corporal punishment which may reduce adverse effects however, they are not eliminated.[*]

Consider what a child is denied when a parent resorts to spanking as a form of discipline: The opportunity for the child to observe and participate (age-appropriately) in resolution strategies that are important to learn in future life situations are diminished (such as explanation, creating appropriate alternatives, and compromises).[*]

But Why Do Most Parents Think Spanking is More Effective?


Although the high-failure rate of spanking is observable, few perceive it.[*][*]

Children who were spanked had an increase in misbehavior two years later, whereas children who were not spanked had a decrease in misbehavior.[*][*]

When a child throws a toy at their brother or sister and the parent explains that the behavior will not be tolerated and places them in time out….  the child does it again a few hours later – the ineffectiveness of time-out is attributed to the repetition of behavior.

But if the child is spanked and required to be spanked again it is not perceived as being ineffective – instead, it is indicated that the child merely needs spanked again.

However, the existing literature overwhelming supports the understanding that all methods of discipline, including CP, have a high failure rate in young children.[*] 

It is the consistency and persistence of the discipline used that makes it effective.[*]

Repetition of spanking a child will result in compliance – as will other discipline methods.

The consistency and persistence used by parents that support spanking are precisely right but unfortunately they are applying a method that has increased risk of harmful side effects.

In fact, the majority of studies completed demonstrate that spanking does not have the effects parents intend; rather it has the reverse effect of increasing undesirable behaviors.


Parents may perceive CP as effective, if not more then other discipline methods because they are not informed of the possible long-term effects. (see above)

Now – all methods of discipline are likely to carry side effects; in fact, the end-goal to discipline is behavior modification. However, there are tremendous amounts of evidence illustrating that the side effects associated with spanking is not something a parent would desire. (again, see list above)

This underscores the urgency for professionals that work with parents to advise them of the detrimental consequences coupled with spanking/ hitting a child which is supported by research.[*] 

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not endorse spanking under any circumstance. According to the AAP, it is a form of punishment that becomes less effective with repeated use.[*][*]

If a person is more affluent and better educated,
they are less likely to support corporal punishment
in children (Source: 2003 TGI  Brasil)

Should There Be a Ban on Spanking?

Using the world as a compass

Beginning with Sweden in 1979, over the last 34 years there has been a total of 33 counties to ban the practice of corporal punishment of children by parents, teachers or any other adult.[*][*][*]

Sweden pioneered the way by using informational campaigns and meetings with parents to inform them of spanking there are other options that are as effective.[*][*]  

The purpose of banning CP is not to put parents in jail. Rather, it is about prevention. It is to encourage attitudes and practices to promote nonviolent methods of child rearing. This hopefully lessens the likelihood of children at greater risk of physical punishment (those who come from a lower socio-economic background, minorities, and those with disabilities).[*][*][*]   
Corporal punishment in homes and schools remains constitutional in the United States. (You can review the State by State comparison here on the laws protecting children for physical punishment)

The countries that have banned corporal punishment did so on the basis of human rights obligations, supported by the very strong research evidence of the potential damage that this type of corrective discipline presents.[*][*]


I do find it ironic that the research illustrating the risks of CP is largely gathered and published in the United States, however the data is informing legal and policy changes in other countries around the world before it has any impact here.[*][*]

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that every parent is doing the best of their ability with the resources available to them.

I hope the information presented here facilitates just one parent that uses corporal punishment to consider learning more about other means of discipline that may carry less risk to their child(ren). 

"Violence against children, including corporal punishment, is a violation of the rights of the child. It conflicts with the child's human dignity and the right of the child to physical integrity. It also prevents children from reaching their full potential, by putting at risk their right to health, survival and development. The best interests of the child can never be used to justify such practice" [*]

-UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kyung-wha Kang

Some resources for learning more about effective discipline:

University of Florida IFAS Extension
Cassandra Deas and Eboni J Baugh

CWLA (Child Welfare League of America)

Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health

Family Education Network Website  (Pearson Education, Inc.)
Elizabeth O Cooper

Image Map

1 comment:

  1. I really appreciate your thoughts and your research on this important topic. You present a caring respectful approach.

    I had one question regarding your use of AAP:

    The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not endorse spanking under any circumstance. According to the AAP, it is a form of punishment that becomes less effective with repeated use.[*][*]

    I'm not sure you agree with ALL the AAP recommendations - especially regarding vaccination, so it is interesting that you choose to include them when they support your ideas regarding CP.

    I think your piece would be stronger by using info from organizations that both you and your audience wholeheartedly support.


Please be respectful. If you are about to say something that you would not let your child hear, then please refrain from saying it.