We’ve all heard by now that decades of research have proven the negative effects spanking has on children. These include:
Increased behavioral problems
Lower moral internalization
Increased risk of mental illness in adolescence
Increased risk of drug and alcohol abuse
Greater likelihood of domestic violence in adulthood
What most of us don’t know is how spanking affects the parent or person giving the spanking. To answer this question, I turned to clinical psychologist and founder of AhaParenting, Dr. Laura Markham. What I learned was gut-wrenching. Below, I’ll outline the way in which she says spanking affects the adult who is executing this punishment.
1. Reduced empathy. When a parent physically harms her child, that parent has to deaden their natural empathy. To actually engage in a violent act, we must disconnect from our own compassion for our child. Yes, spanking is a violent act. Even if, in the parent’s mind, they are doing it “out of love,” when they physically strike another human to deliberately cause them pain, that is violence. To do this to your own child, you have to disconnect from compassion and empathy.
2. They see their children as “bad.” In order to justify their behavior, a parent who spanks must see that child as bad and deserving of punishment. If that parent was seeing their child through a compassionate lens, as a young and immature human who makes mistakes along the way because they are growing and learning, they would never strike their child. They spank because they believe the child deserves it, and to believe it, they must rationalize in their mind that their child is not good.
3. They lose sight of how hard they hit. Research studies have shown that you must escalate punishments for them to continue to work. Studies have also shown that parents spank their children 40% harder than they think they do, and that ⅔ of all physical abuse cases start out as regular spankings that get out of hand.
4. Love gets numbed. Dr. Markham tells me, “When we spank our child, we ‘wall off’ our own inner child, who feels vulnerable. In fact, our desire to cut off that vulnerability is one reason we spank. But it walls off our hearts and makes us less capable of feeling love.” Now that’s concerning!
5. They lose connection with their kids. Markham points out that, when our empathy for our children is reduced, we feel less connected to them. This is detrimental to the relationship and creates a cycle of disrespect and resentment.
6. It may be physiologically addicting. After a spanking, the parent experiences a temporary release of the fight or flight neurotransmitters that flushed them with rage. That relieves them. They feel better momentarily. They associate feeling better with the spanking, and in this way, it can become physiologically addicting as a way to relieve rage.
7. It results in feelings of hopelessness. Because spanking often ruptures our bond and destroys trust between the parent and child, children often start acting out more. Their behavior and aggression get worse, leaving the parent feeling hopeless and exasperated with parenting.
8. They lose sight of solutions. Research shows that when a parent depends on spanking to manage behavior, they become less creative about finding other solutions, making their parenting less effective. “If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” - Abraham Maslow
Positive discipline strategies work better in the long run than spanking. Not only does positive discipline teach children critical social-emotional skills and problem-solving skills, but importantly it preserves the relationship, trust, and attachment between parent and child. Our Positive Discipline Course can help.