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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

Parenting, Spanking and Later Aggression

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Jan 15th 2014

Have you ever had the experience of seeing a parent in a supermarket correcting her crying child by spanking him? In fact, in this scenario, the irate parent scolds the kid to stop crying and, at the same time, is spanking the youngster which can only cause the child to cry even more. This is not unusual because vast numbers of parents continue to use hitting and yelling as ways to discipline their young children.

Parenting, Spanking and Later AggressionNew studies support research done in the past: Spanking children is not good for them and results in discipline problems and aggression in elementary school and beyond. Yet, spanking is a tactic mothers and fathers continue to use. Why is this so?

Exasperated parents probably find it easier to resort to spanking rather than seasoning with their children as a way to discipline their children. Studies show that 33% of fathers and 52% of mothers spanked their children at age five. These numbers are high despite the fact that this is an ineffective way to correct behavior. It probably continues because this was the way parents were raised and that it temporarily results in compliance. Later, the same behavior occurs, this time in school and in play with other kids.

It is understandable that children would become more aggressive when consideration is given to the fact that parents are role models for their kids. If parents use spanking then children learn that hitting rather than talking and negotiating are preferred ways to try to solve problems. In addition, parents are big and strong compared to 5 year old kids. At that age it's not possible to hit back. Therefore, what better reaction than to take out frustrations and anger at school rather than at home? Besides, in a child's mind, if mom and dad hit, and then it must be the right way to do things.

Studies also found that children who were spanked were found to have lower vocabularies as compared to other kids. It is not that spanked children are less intelligent than others but that less time is spent on talking about problems. That's probably because it seems easier to use spanking instead of reasoning. In addition, it is possible that youngsters who were spanked might be distracted and less able to learn at school.

Of course it can be difficult to raise little kids. Pressured for time to make breakfast, get the kids dressed, get to work, get the kids to elementary school, and see to many other chores, parents become overwhelmed and their patience stretched very thin. Despite this it's healthier to avoid yelling and spanking especially considering the implications for future behavior and development. In fact, it is fair to say that parents need to learn better strategies than hitting to handle their anger.

In a world where we read about war and violence everyday, there have to be better ways to raise our children and there are. It's alway sobering to remember that our little kids will become teenagers. By that time it might be too late to impress upon them the values having to do with talking rather than fighting. As the age old saying goes, "What goes around comes around."

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

I Was Spanked - Cathy - Jan 17th 2015

I was spanked.  I think everyone that I went to school with in the 60's was spanked.  We didn't have kids that were so depressed they had to be on meds, no shootings, no suicides and like myself, the other kids were not in trouble.  I am talking about beating, slapping, etc.  I spanked both of my children.  The older son has done exceptionally well for himself in the military speaking, writing and reading 3 languages, a Master's degree and never, ever in trouble at school or with the law and he doesn't beat his family up.  The younger has Down syndrome and had he not been spanked for doing dangerous things when he was told not to, I believe he would have died by accident, running in the street, jumping from places - he was a daredevil without the sense to think an action through.  A time out was just a quiet opportunitiy to plan his next daredevil action.

The issues now with violence has more to do with the television, video games and the internet.  Actually, all of the social issues are a result of that media running wild.

It really is a joke what they come up with like if the family eats dinner together the kids will turn out better.  Ah, no, that's not it but the kind of family that eats dinner together just because that is what they do as a family has the kids that don't get into trouble. Trying to oversimplify why something happens never results in the right answer.

Since people have stopped spanking, they have lost control of their children, suicide rates have soared, the kids are in therapy, on drugs and in trouble with the law.  Yes, those few moments of correction by spanking did make a difference, a positive one. 

Spanking - Taina - Jul 11th 2014

For a long time I felt/thought that there was somthing wrong with spanking, specially when the child was crying and vulnerable to a bigger person. I thank you for the article. There has to be a better way to discipline a child. I only remember a few times when I was smacked or hit by parents or syblings and all of these times are remembered with fear. One of these times, my father hit me when I ran to him to embrace him.  I think I was about age 3 or 4. He was drunk and angry at my mom because She had taken me to the beach. Another time my sister slapped me because I was playing and trying to get ger attention. I was probably 9. This article is bringing out so many horrible memories. As an adult, I accepted emotional abuse from mem. Now I am starting therapy. I did not realize how deeply a person can carry hurt as result of childhhod trauma, 

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