Clinica Sierra Vista WIC

Do I or Don't I?

by Michael E. Kirk, PhD
Dr. Kirk is a local clinical psychologist, father and grandfather, who specializes in working with families, adolescents, and children.

Ms. Jones swats her son, but he keeps misbehaving, so she swats him again harder. Mr. Paulson grabs his son and slaps him when he acts disrespectfully. Physical punishment is not an effective technique to get children to behave, so parents think they have to keep escalating it, and that is why it is such a dangerous technique. A growing body of research has shown that spanking and other forms of physical discipline can pose serious risks to children, but many parents are not hearing the message. It’s a very controversial area, even though the research is very clear and consistent about the negative effects of spanking on children. Parents say they become frustrated and hit their children. Perhaps, they do not recognize there are other options.

Studies have shown that physical punishment, including spanking and hitting, can lead to increased aggression, antisocial behavior, physical injury, and mental Health problems for children. A parent’s acceptance of physical punishment as a way to change a child’s behavior continues even though spanking is ineffective. It is unlikely that a parent can “punish out” the behaviors one does not want in a child. While there is no need for corporal punishment, there are effective techniques for assisting children in changing their behavior.

The recommendation is that parents reduce and potentially eliminate their use of any physical punishment as a disciplinary method. Physical punishment can work to momentarily stop problematic behavior, because children may be afraid of being hit. But it does not work in the long term, because you spank again and again, and still, children continue to misbehave.  This strategy can make children more aggressive. So, when they misbehave because of our treatment of them, we spank again – the endless cycle! Physical punishment is not an appropriate or even a consistently effective method of discipline. Physical punishment can instill hostility, rage, and a sense of powerlessness without reducing the undesirable behavior in a child. Thus, punishment is a waste of time and energy and a useless technique.

Typically, the abused child has a poor self-image and, worse, may feel that his parents do not love him. This may manifest itself in his poor work ethic such as low grades in school and uncompleted home chores, his poor choice of friends, and drastic self-harming behaviors.

If one cannot use spanking, what do you have left?  An effective method for parents is to use positive reinforcement and attention to reward children for good behavior only. When you interact with a child, you are informing him that his immediate behavior is “good.” In doing so, the child sees his current behavior as useful and uses it again and again. Thus, imagine if we ONLY reinforce behavior we want to see again, ignoring everything else, being attentive to only the good behaviors. Children will misbehave, but we only have to inform them that we will engage with them “only after my son, who I love very much, finishes his homework and cleans his room.” Ignore the child until the required task is complete, no matter how long it takes, and then say something positive and smile. Parents have a bigger job to do than to hurt their children, and that is to make them feel good about themselves. Spending positive time with your child, playing catch, riding bikes, reading or cooking together, will also encourage him to behave better for you, because he feels healthier about himself. Being attentive to good behaviors will result in our children choosing first-rate behaviors for themselves. That is spanking good news!

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Tags: Enrichment, Featured Story, Health, Infant & Baby, Preschool, Toddler, Tweens & Teens

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