The debate over whether it is appropriate, useful or downright harmful to spank your child has been raging for decades. Any parent can attest that at times our little ones can be little menaces.

Whether they won’t accept being told ‘no more ice cream’ or they keep tugging at their sibling’s hair, there are times when we need to guide and shape the behaviour of our small charges.

How is this best done?

Most of us just want our kids to grow up healthy, happy and able to self-regulate destructive behaviour, does spanking have a place in consequential punishment?

Science has been weighing in on the debate of physical punishment and has advice for parents when it comes to question of to spank or not to spank.


Does the science agree?


When it comes to spanking, hitting a child on the bottom with an open hand, there are new studies that are arguing that this tactic increases the likelihood that children will develop emotional and behaviour issues.

Yet there remain critics to the “black and white” stance of new anti-spanking science advocates.

Critics say that the research on this issue is still fraught with problems to delineate exact findings.

In short, there is still a divide in the scientific community, which in turn means that parents should increasingly be a part of the dialogue and that research surrounding the disciplinary action of spanking is still greatly needed.


Negative Outcomes


Academic experts Elizabeth Gershoff and Andrew Grogan-Kaylor from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Michigan, spent considerable time conducting a meta-analysis of 75 studies that examined any links between spanking and emotional, cognitive, behavioural and physical outcomes.

They discerned from their analysis that a causal link was found to be the case 13 out of 17 negatives outcomes they were studying.

These outcomes included higher rates of aggression, behavioural difficulties, lower cognitive abilities and challenged self-esteem.




Some academics have raised concerns as to what the analysis of Gershoff and Grogan-Kaylor did not address.

Christopher Ferguson, a psychologist at Stetson University in Florida highlights that many parents who spank their children were found to have used other techniques of punishment, “you’re still not really isolating spanking from overall abusiveness.”

Additionally the new analysis considered spanking to be slapping or hitting a child anywhere on the body, yet experts argue that there is likely to be greatly varied results with smacking a child on the face as compared to the bottom.

These experts argue that drawing the conclusion from the meta-analysis that spanking in and of itself is dangerous may be over simplistic.

Ferguson explains, “I think it’s irresponsible to make exclusive statements one way or another.”

Additionally the meta-analysis did not control for the effects of other variables. The analysis was not able to answer the chicken or the egg conundrum; Do children act out because of being spanking or are they spanked because they act out?


Erring On The Side Of Caution


Regardless of the opposing sides of the debate and the tricky conclusional validity linked to studies, most scientists encourage that the safest approach for all involved is to avoid spanking your children.

Increasingly there are approaches coming out of universities, hospitals and other accredited health centres which promote strategic techniques to dealing with children that are acting out.

Seeking out the latest information on how to manage child behaviour from your local trusted medical professional may be a way for parents as well as children to become equipped with valuable skills.

Amy Henderson

Author Amy Henderson

Amy is a Journalist for HelloCare.

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