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To spank or not to spank?

April 14, 2010

A study out this week in the journal Pediatrics found that children who were spanked frequently at the age of 3 could turn out more agressive by the time they’re 5 years old.

The spanking debate is nothing new; this study adds to the already extensive body of research that shows corporal punishment to be ineffective, or in some cases, counter-productive.

“In truth, by about age 6 or 7, kids would rather be spanked than put in a time-out,” says Brian Daly, a child psychologist at Temple University. “The pain of spanking is very short, but being put in a time-out for 7 minutes feels much longer to them.”

Brian Daly

Daly says spanking causes a vicious cycle – when a child is spanked frequently, it loses its effectiveness.  Parents might realize that and become frustrated, and spank more, which Daly says will likely lead to that increased aggressive behavior in kids.

“Children’s behavior is best managed by a combination of positive reinforcement and consequences,” he says.  “The ratio should be 75% positive reinforcement and 25% consequences for misbehavior.”

Daly says that mild spanking could work if the situation calls for it, however, “you walk a very fine line.  And the downside is much greater than if the combo of positive reinforcement and consequences doesn’t work.”

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