Were you spanked as a child? Then you may think it's a good way to guide a child. Or maybe you don't want to spank, but you find yourself doing it because you don't know how else to get through to your child.

Interestingly, adults who were not spanked as children don't spank their kids. It just feels wrong to them. And you know what? They find other ways to get through to their kids. And their children turn out fine. In fact, it's the kids who are spanked who have a harder time regulating their emotions, and who get into more trouble.

The last thirty years of research give us very clear results. (The citations are at the end of this post.) Kids who are spanked are less emotionally healthy than kids who aren't. What's more, kids who are spanked behave worse over time.

So if you were spanked and think you came out fine, it wasn't because of the spanking. And while you are fine, hopefully, you would probably be healthier emotionally if you hadn't been spanked.

A 2013 study by Elizabeth Gershoff and her team (cited below) reviewed the previous two decades of research and confirmed that children who are spanked are more likely to exhibit depression, anxiety, drug use, and aggression as they get older. Children who have suffered more severe corporal punishment have been shown to have less gray matter in their frontal cortex, and to have amygdalas that are more hyper-vigilant. 

The only positive outcome that's ever been shown from spanking is immediate compliance. That sounds like a good outcome, right? The problem is that corporal punishment is also associated with less long-term compliance. Corporal punishment has repeatedly been linked with nine other negative outcomes, including increased rates of aggression, delinquency, mental health problems, and problems in relationships with their parents.

Large, peer-reviewed studies repeatedly show that the more children are hit, the more likely they are to hit others, including peers and siblings. As adults, they are more likely to hit their spouses. The more parents spank children for antisocial behavior, the more the antisocial behavior increases. All of the peer reviewed studies being published continue to confirm these findings.

A major study at Tulane University, published in Pediatrics controlled for other factors that have been found to contribute to aggressiveness in children, including the mother's depression, alcohol and drug use, spousal abuse and even whether the mother considered abortion while pregnant with the child. Spanking remained a strong predictor of violent behavior in the child.

As five-year-olds, the children who had been spanked were more likely than the non-spanked to be defiant, demand immediate satisfaction of their wants and needs, become frustrated easily, have temper tantrums and lash out physically against other people or animals.

Quite simply, spanking produces WORSE behavior, not better behavior. It also begets more violence, because hitting children teaches them that it is acceptable to hit others who are smaller and weaker. “I'm going to hit you because you hit your sister” is a hypocrisy not lost on children. As every parent knows, kids do what we do, not what we say.

Discipline means "to teach." If we're serious about raising good kids, we need to use methods that teach kids to manage themselves. Spanking does not do that. Instead, it teaches kids to be afraid of us, which is no basis for love. It teaches them to be sneaky so they won't be caught doing something wrong. It teaches kids that they are bad, so they are more likely to behave badly. It teaches kids to use violence when they want to solve a problem. And it keeps them from taking responsibility to improve their own behavior, because they "externalize the locus of control," which means they only behave because an authority figure makes them, rather than behaving because they want to.

Brain research has also demonstrated that children's brains change when they're spanked. In one study, the brains of children who were spanked showed greater fear responses than children who were never spanked, but there were no differences between children who were spanked and children who were abused. Researchers concluded that the nervous system's experience of violence was common to both spanked children and abused children; the only difference was the degree.

The unfortunate thing is that spanking not only doesn't work, it is totally unnecessary. When children are raised with age-appropriate expectations and limits accompanied by empathy, they tend to behave and cooperate. Those children don't need much in the way of discipline at all, and they become self-disciplined adults. (Want more info on how to guide your kids without spanking?)

So next time you get so angry you want to hit someone, tell your kids you’re taking a timeout and you’ll deal with them later. Then go into the bathroom, run the water, and calm yourself down. Use the time to get calm, not to justify your anger. When you come out, tell them you need to think hard about what they did, but right now you need to fix dinner (do the laundry, whatever.) Tell them you need them to be little angels, and you will talk when you are all calm later. Then follow through.

Your discipline and teaching will be so much more effective. They’ll learn a lot better when they aren’t in the flush of flight or flight hormones. And you will be so grateful to see yourself becoming the kind of parent every child deserves. (For more on this, see For Parents: How to Handle Your Own Anger.)


What about Proverbs 23 (Do not withhold discipline from a child)?

I'm no expert on the Bible, but here are two articles you'll want to read.

and one truly fantastic book:

from which I am quoting a number of recent studies about spanking:

  • “As 5-year-olds, the children who had been spanked were more likely than the non-spanked to be defiant, demand immediate satisfaction of their wants and needs, become frustrated easily, have temper tantrums and lash out physically against other people or animals” 33( Time, Physical Punishment Increases Aggression in Children)
  • “Physical punishment is also associated with a variety of mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety and use of drugs and alcohol” 34 (Science Daily, Canadian Medical Association Journal: Long-term Negative Effects of Physical Punishment)
  • “IQs of children ages 2 to 4 who were not spanked were 5 points higher four years later than the IQs of those who were spanked” 35 (Science Daily, Research Shows Children Who Are Spanked Have Lower IQ’s)
  • “Dr. Brazy at Duke University and Ludington-Hoe and colleagues at Case Western University showed in 2 separate studies how prolonged crying in infants causes increased blood pressure in the brain, elevates stress hormones, obstructs blood from draining out of the brain, and decreases oxygenation to the brain. They concluded that caregivers should answer cries swiftly, consistently, and comprehensively.” 36 (Dr. William Sears: Studies on the Effects of Excessive/ Prolonged Crying in Infancy)
  • “Dr. Allan Schore (1996), of the UCLA School of Medicine has demonstrated that the stress hormone cortisol can damage nerve connections in significant areas of the infant’s brain. His research suggests that not only does stress damage connections in these areas of the infant’s brain but when the areas of the infant’s brain responsible for bonding, emotional control, and attachment are not nurtured in a healthy way, those areas remain undeveloped or underdeveloped” 37 (Cambridge Journal, Studies on the Effects of Prolonged Crying in Infancy)

Click to see Dr. Laura Markham speak about Spanking on the Morning Show with Mike & Juliet.


"How to control one's angry impulses is one of the things you are trying to teach your children. Spanking sabotages this teaching. Spanking guidelines usually give the warning to never spank in anger. If this guideline were to be faithfully observed 99 percent of spanking wouldn't occur, because once the parent has calmed down he or she can come up with a more appropriate method of correction."
-Dr. Sears


Analysis of Five Decades of Research Confirms Harm from Spanking, published in April 2016 Journal of Family Psychology.

Elizabeth Gershoff is recognized as the leading researcher on spanking in the United States today. Here's her most recent report: Report on Physical Punishment in the United States: What Research Tells Us About Its Effects On Children.

Joan Durrant at the University of Manitoba is one of the leading researchers in Canada and gives a round-up of the research citations here: http://www.cmaj.ca/content/184/12/1373#ref-36

This Time Magazine article gives a round-up of recent studies: http://time.com/the-discipline-wars-2/

There's an avalanche of research studies that is in 99% agreement about the negative effects of spanking. Here are just a few:

  • Berlin, L.J., Ispa, J.M., Fine, M.A., Malone, P.S., Brooks-Gunn, J., Brady-Smith, C., et al. (2009). Correlates and consequences of spanking and verbal punishment for low-income White, African American, and Mexican American toddlers. Child Development, 80, 1403-1420.
  • Gershoff, E.T. (2002). Corporal punishment by parents and association behaviors and experiences: A meta-analytic and theoretical review.Psychological Bulletin, 128, 539-579.
  • Gershoff, E. T. (2013). Spanking and child development: We know enough now to stop hitting our children. Child Development Perspectives, 7 (3), 133-137.
  • Gershoff, E.T., & Grogan-Kaylor, A. (2013). Spanking and its consequences for children: New meta-analyses and old controversies. Manuscript under review.
  • Gershoff, E.T., Lansford, J.E., Sexton, H.R., Davis-Kean, P.E., & Sameroff, A.J. (2012). Longitudinal links between spanking and children’s externalizing behaviors in a national sample of White, Black, Hispanic, and Asian American families. Child Development, 83, 838-843.