Reasons Not to Hit
Physical punishment does not teach children what we really want them to learn – how to get along with other people, treat them with fairness and respect, and how to resolve conflict without hurting others. It continues to happen because of old beliefs that it is effective and not harmful.
A large amount of research now shows that, rather than improving children’s behavior, physical punishment can make it worse. Using violence to teach a child not to use violence (spanking a child to punish them for aggression) doesn’t work. It sends a very confusing message to the child. They won’t understand why, if violence is wrong, the parent is using it. It undermines the parent’s message and it leads the child to feel unfairly treated. This creates confusion, hurt and anger in the child. Physical punishment can also create stress, fear, and anxiety in children. These feelings can interfere with the child’s ability to really hear and learn the lesson the parent is trying to teach. All of us – children and adults – learn best when we feel safe.
Research is very clear that physical punishment can be harmful to children. Its effects include:
(1) increased aggression in children
(2) anti-social behavior and delinquency
(3) mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety
(4) slower intellectual development
(5) physical injury to the child
(6) problems in the parent-child relationship
(7) damage to the child's growing brain. Watch the video below to see how spanking affects the child's brain:
Even though research shows that physical punishment is both ineffective and harmful, some parents still do it. Some of the reasons and our responses are below:
I was spanked as a child and I turned out OK: Many people were spanked as children and feel that it did not harm them. Maybe it didn’t harm them, but it put them at risk. For example, some people smoke but don’t get cancer. But smoking doesn’t benefit their health; it puts their health at risk. This is now what we know about physical punishment. It doesn’t have any benefits for children; it puts children’s healthy development at risk.
It works: While spanking a child might stop their behavior in the moment, over time their behavior does not improve. In fact, it is likely to get worse. This is because:
It shows the child a model of aggressive problem-solving.
It creates fear and anxiety that interfere with learning.
It creates anger that can lead to aggression against other children.
It damages the child’s trust in and respect for the parent.
All parents struggle with how to teach their children in a way that feels comfortable and makes sense for them. For many parents, that involves raising their children the way they were raised. For others, memories of physical punishment lead them to seek new ways that will strengthen their relationships with their children.
The Bible requires physical punishment: Many people believe that the Bible calls on parents to use physical punishment. However, many Biblical scholars argue that this is not the case. They interpret Scriptures as calling for guidance, wisdom and teaching, but not for causing pain to children. In fact, many religious leaders have taken strong positions against physical punishment (see Culture/Faith page for more information).
It’s part of my culture: Many people in the U.S. were raised in communities where physical punishment is common. It can be difficult to stop doing it when everyone around you tells you that it’s the right thing to do. But cultures do change, particularly when new information is available. This is happening all over the world, as we realize that something we thought was good for children has been shown to be harmful. Just as we used to let children ride in cars without seatbelts, we used to hit them. We thought that both of these things were safe. Now we know that both put children’s safety at risk. There are ways to teach children what they need to learn – without hurting them.
Parents have the right to spank: It is legal for parents to use physical punishment in the U.S. In some states, teachers can still use it. But this does not mean that it is a wise, safe or effective thing to do. Based on research carried out over the past 30 years, many countries have banned all physical punishment of children. While the U.S. still allows it, parents have a choice whether to use physical punishment. We believe that parents will choose not to use it when they have information about how harmful it can be, how ineffective it is, and the many ways they can teach children what they need to learn.
It’s necessary to prevent spoiling: Some parents believe that spanking is necessary to prevent children from become spoiled and disrespectful. There is no evidence that this is true. Many children actually lose respect for their parents when their parents hurt them. They might appear to be obedient, but this is due to fear, not respect. Respect is earned over time by parents who respond to conflict with wisdom, not pain.
It’s necessary to prevent harm: Sometimes parents believe that it’s better for them to hurt their children than for their children to be hit by a car, recruited into a gang, or hurt by others in their neighborhood. These parents believe that teaching their children fear is the best way to protect them. Children do need to learn about danger - but they need to know that they are safe with their parents. When children fear their parents, they don’t go to their parents when they need help and guidance the most. Children need to feel safe talking with their parents about things that worry or scare them, and know that their parents will help them to find solutions to difficult situations.
Please view the videos below for examples of peaceful and effective disciplinary strategies.
Disciplining a 2-year old Disciplining a 3-year old
Long-term goals providing warmth and structure Understanding how children think and feel
Collaborative proactive solutions Putting it all together