Is Spanking Children an Effective Consequence?

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Spanking is a widely debated topic. Most experts advise against using corporal punishment, but some parents believe that spanking is an effective discipline strategy.

Other parents admit they have occasionally spanked their child—especially when they were feeling overly stressed. Whichever camp they belong to, all parents need to know and closely consider the potential consequences of physical punishment, including spanking.

Reasons Parents Spank

Sometimes, parents spank their children out of desperation. When kids frequently misbehave, parents may feel as though they are at the end of their rope and aren’t sure what else to do. Parents in these situations might say, “Nothing else seems to work.”

Without a consistent discipline strategy, it might feel like spanking is the best option. While spanking may alter behavior in the short-term, it rarely has a positive effect in the long-term. Studies have shown that spanking is ineffective and has detrimental consequences on child development.

Parents may rely on spanking to "fix" behavior problems without trying alternative discipline strategies—or giving those options enough time to work.

Another common reason parents spank is out of exasperation, impulse, or anger. A parent who reacts out of frustration ("I can't believe you just did that!") might spank a child without thinking.

If you don't know how else to discipline your child, spanking might become the first line of defense. While it might feel like a solution at the moment, spanking won't solve the problem or teach your child better behavior.

Many parents later regret striking their children. Spanking can also cause lasting damage to the parent-child relationship.

The Problems With Spanking

In addition to being an inadequate solution to behavioral problems, spanking a child can actually create more problems. The following are a few reasons spanking does not work to change a child's behavior.

It Doesn't Teach Appropriate Behavior

A child who gets spanked for arguing with their sibling won't learn how to get along better in the future. Effective discipline teaches a child new skills and builds their competency and confidence. Spanking degrades trust and self-confidence, while only teaching a child what not to do.

It Models Aggression

Children do what parents do more than what they say. If you spank your child for hitting their sibling, for example, you're sending a confusing message.

Studies have linked the experience of getting spanked to more aggressive behavior, mental health conditions, and other detrimental outcomes for the child (similar to the impact of being physically abused).

It Creates Shame

If they have been struck by a parent, a child might think, "I'm bad," and struggle with self-esteem, trust, and mental health issues. Children feeling shame are not motivated to improve their behavior and begin to feel that they cannot do better.

Hitting a child to modify their behavior tells them that they can't learn in a more positive way and don't deserve to be treated respectfully. Gentler discipline techniques are more effective while also building a kid's self-confidence.

It Shifts Focus to Parent's Behavior

Instead of helping your child think about what they could do better next time, spanking is more likely to make them angry at their parent.

Kids in this situation begin to think in terms of “What can I do that won’t get me a spanking?” instead of “What’s the best choice I can make right now?” The spanking-avoidance dynamic can also encourage lying.

It Loses Effectiveness Over Time

Sometimes, kids decide the misbehavior is “worth it.” They might even get "used to" corporal punishment, in which case it stops being a deterrent. A more effective discipline strategy, such as taking away their phone or a handheld game for 24 hours, can be much more effective at motivating kids to behave.

It Doesn't Work for Older Kids and Teens

If you have always used spanking to discipline your child, what will you do when they become a teen? Using physical punishment teaches kids that it's OK for the stronger person to hurt someone who does something that they don't like.

Spanking employs shame and pain to discourage and punish rather than dealing with the root of the child's behavior.

It's Not Doctor Recommended

According to a 2018 survey of pediatricians published in the journal Pediatrics, only 6% of the doctors surveyed endorsed spanking. Only 2.5% anticipated positive outcomes from the use of the discipline practice.

There are plenty of age-appropriate discipline strategies that you can use as an alternative to spanking throughout your child’s life.

Alternatives to Spanking

Many discipline strategies are more effective than spanking. You will want to consider alternative negative consequences that will reinforce your rules without hurting your child, such as removing privileges.

If your child colors on the walls, a logical consequence would be to have them wash the walls. This teaches them to have more respect for property. It also sends the message that their misbehavior will have consequences.

Restitution helps restore relationships and gives children the chance to learn new skills. The technique can be very effective for aggressive behavior and works well for children and teens of all ages.

Using praise to encourage positive behavior is another effective alternative to spanking. When you catch your child "doing good," make sure they know that you noticed. Kids tend to perform to parents' expectations. The more they hear praise for doing the right things, the more they will want to do them.

A Word From Verywell

The goal of discipline should be to teach your child new skills that will give them the tools necessary to be a responsible adult. Research shows that spanking is not an effective discipline strategy and has negative consequences—some of which can be lifelong.

When determining which discipline strategies to use, think about what you hope your child will gain from your intervention. Strategies like praise reward your child's positive behavior and build their confidence.

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