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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

New Study: Spanking Promotes Aggression in Kids

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Apr 13th 2010

crying childA study recently came out that showed spanking as a strong predictor in influencing aggressive behavior in children later on. We've experienced these signs of aggression as arguing, bullying, meanness, destructive, fighting and/or threatening others.

Catherine Taylor, Ph.D., from Tulane University School of Public Health, co-authored this study which asked nearly 2500 mothers how often they spanked their 3 year old child in the last month. The study controlled for many confounding factors and found that those parents who frequently spanked their children (more than twice in a month) correlated with higher levels of aggression by age 5.

Spanking promotes fear

Now, that's interesting, but what I thought was most interesting was a quote by Dr. Jayne Singer, clinical director of the child and parent program at Children's Hospital Boston, who was not involved in the study. In a press release at Tulane she said that the reason spanking is not effective in the long run is because while it may stop the behavior in the moment, it doesn't create understanding and promotes fear.

That made a lot of sense to me. Just because we spank a child doesn't mean they understood what or why what they had did was wrong, they just create a stress reaction around the behavior and therefore may have an aversion to it. My hunch is that they may also get a sense that what they did was wrong, but why?

Even a time-out, which is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) doesn't mean the child understands why what they did was wrong. There still needs to be a promotion of how to communicate with children to instill an understanding in them, this promotes a much deeper level of behavior change.

What is this research missing?

Children act out from fear, anger, confusion, or feeling a need for attention. What we want is to instill an internal compass inside our children for right and wrong. We also want to cultivate a sense of confidence and self-acceptance.

As parents and caregivers we can model this by attuning to the child, letting them know we understand what they're feeling and why they might be feeling that way and what they're doing is not Ok as it hurts others or whatever the negative outcome is. We can do this before or after the time-out depending on their emotional state.

So, my thoughts on this are for promoting understanding, self confidence and self acceptance through parental discipline. So, while this research is encouraging, we need to take it a bit further in helping parents learn ways to work with difficult children that promote resiliency.

Please share your thoughts, stories, and questions below. Your interaction provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.  

 

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

How to handle a bully in Kindergarten - Cathy Larson - Oct 18th 2011

I was talking with my 5 year old grand daughter as she is snuggled next to me on the couch, and I asked her how things have been at school. She told me that in the beginning kids were being mean to her and calling her bad names. I asked what kind of names. She said she was being called a dummy. I asked her if she laughed and said, you really don't know me do you? She said with a straight and sad face, I told him that I don't like what he is saying. I told her that he must not be happy with himself to say such things to you. I let her know that his thoughts are his thoughts, and your thoughts are yours. You know yourself better then he does, and you know you are smart. You do not have to accept his words. But, you can turn it around to make him feel better about himself. All you have to do when someone calls you a dummy, is say..You really don't know me do you? Then say to him, I don't think you are dumb. I know you can be very smart. Then watch the negativity go away and you have opened your heart to someone who needs to feel loved.


Anxiety In Children - Susan F. - Apr 23rd 2010

I think today's society gets too caught up in trying to be politically correct.  A lot of peers and myself included were doled a healthy spanking as children.  This punishment was given soley when we deserved it though.  As long as children aren't being spanked excessively and without cause I don't foresee it doing harm to our youth today.

http://www.panic-attackssymptoms.org

Jumping to Conclusions - Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. - Apr 14th 2010

Let me first apologize for not picking up the fact that some people would interpret the picture as being spanked in the face.

The title of the post was about aggression too, and the purpose of the picture was to create an image of a child who was mixed up in aggressive behavior (e.g. the black eye), not that he was spanked in the face. 

However, I can see how you might have interpreted it that way. Please know that was not at all my intention. 

Be well,

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Agree with previous comments. - JR - Apr 14th 2010

Whether one agrees or disagrees with "reasonable chastisment", I do not think that anybody would regard inflicting a black eye on a small child as "reasonable".  The use of this inappropriate image may not discredit the argument of the essay - but it certainly undermines it in terms of receptability.  Dr Goldstein - I cannot believe that you selected or approved the use of this image - as one of your admirers, I would have thought you were much more sensible than that.

Best regards,

JR.

Dr. Dombeck's Note: Lest JR and other readers attempt to give Dr. Goldstein a metaphorical black eye, let me make clear that it is not necessarily the case that Dr. Goldstein selected the image.  In any event, we will replace it with something more suitable. 

You don't spank in the face - - Apr 14th 2010

Nice spin using the photograph of a child with a black eye.  I was spanked as a child and I'm pretty sure that my face was never the target.  Way to try to twist an acceptable form of discipline into monstrous child abuse.

As A Mother Who Supports Discipline - Cathy - Apr 14th 2010

As a mother who supports discipline and spanking being a part of that, I found the photo with the article of a child who had been beaten very offensive.  Spanking is not beating and bruising a child.  I was spanked and I spanked both of my son, one now a 33 year old Major in the Army and one a 23 year old with Down syndrome who attends a day center.  Am I agressive?  My brother?  My sons?  No, we are not.  We are constantly praised for our self-discipline and appropriate social behavior.  I know many adults who were spanked as a child and not agressive.  You must distinguise between beating and spanking.  With our younger son with DS, he was mostly spanked for doing unsafe things - he is low functioning.  My older son was spanked early on for safety issues as well and after that mostly inappropriate social behavior.  Actually after 10 years old, neither were spanked and we switched to taking away privileges.  My older son got his room stripped down to a bed and dresser - black trashbags came in and I loaded all those "nice to have" items including the posters from the wall, music, TV and they all went to the basement until he was ready to do the right thing - doing the right thing is really big with me.  He actually asked if he just couldn't be spanked and get it over with so he could have his stuff, yeah, like I would consider that, silly boy.  The younger son, Playstation or Wii go to the car trunk for however long it takes him to be sorry and get it together.  Time out never worked for the younger one and because he spent so much time in time out at school, I mostly homeschooled him - I pulled him out because they had a "time-out room" - I fought the battles to get humane treatment for him (not being locked in a closet) and I lost, more than once - tell me how well developed a child will turn out if he is locked in a closet when he does something inappropriate.  Anyway, where I grew up, God was a strong influence along with the discipline that marches hand in hand.  To imply that the photo of the child in the article with a beaten face has anything to do with spanking simply shows that you don't have a clue about spanking in the first place.  Sorry but really what on earth were you thinking?

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