Corporal Punishment doesn’t Work in Parenting: Alternative Methods of Punishment

In this article, Brendan Smith analyzes the effects of using physical discipline and how it may correlate to future long term problems within a child. According to Smith, for a short period of time spanking can prevent children from engaging in problematic behaviors. However others disagree and believe physical discipline does not work at all and that it is a form of abuse (Vol 43, No 4, Pg 60). Whether or not you would prefer to use this method of discipline, in this essay I will provide insight on this controversial topic and why it should not be used in your own household.

Knowledge on the proper discipline of children is insufficient in the United States, “Parents get frustrated and hit their kids, but they do not see there are many alternative ways to handle situations involving raising your kid” (Graham-Bermann, 2018). Child abuse and Corporal/Physical punishment vary in the grey area. One force, is with intention of causing a child to experience pain for control of child’s behavior, and the other is physical injury resulting in beating, kicking, biting, burning etc. otherwise the main fact is both applications involve harming a child with or without intention. The capacity of feeling pain does not distinguish itself between the two categories, so determining the difference of physical abuse and physcial punishment is misleading. How will children figure out the difference of punishment or abuse, especially in places like Hawaii where the two are wihtout a doubt intertwined? Research shows the long term negative effects of physical punishment outweigh the short term solutions.

Correspondingly, researchers are finding that children exposed to physical discipline from a young age will see an increase in aggression, antisocial behavior, and mental illnesses in the long run. Since the 1960’s physical punishment has gone down, however two-thirds of Americans still agree that spanking is acceptable (Smith, 2012, pg 60). All parenting styles are unqiue, however the vital question is, does your discipline technique educate your child or just provoke fear?

There are several reasons why physical punishment does not work when raising children. One reason is it lacks the persistency when trying to stop unwanted behavior because it instills fear and children are only afraid of being spanked or hit (Graham-Bermann, 2018). In The Case Against Spanking presented by the American Psychological Association, it describes that through the developmental stages and lifespan we see increased aggression during and after the age range of 6 to 12, also known as the Latency or Industry vs Inferiority period.

Children with aggression especially at an emotionally unstable time get ignorant and don’t see the purpose in situations, children in general don’t have the maturity and self independence to be at full control of their actions and feelings. An angry child who is getting spanked is just a ticking time bomb waiting to blow up. They are taking in punishment with an additive to building up anger and negative emotions because when they are physically hit they see a lack of love and care in the relationship. The primary goals of parental corporal punishment is linked to higher levels of instant obedience with minimal justification to explain what the child did wrong.

Likewise do parents expect to sacrifice building a strong relationship with their child because they intend on using punishment all of which apply anxiety, fear, and anger? This relates to both theories of Maslow hierarchy of needs and Erikson Trust vs Mistrust stages of early development. For Maslow the second stage of childhood development is safety, if a child does not feel that their environment is safe for them than they won’t progress on to feelings of ove and belonging. As for Erikson a child must also be able to trust their caregivers to take care of them and look after them in accordance to progressing to the next stage. Each of these stages if not met result later on in life with poor relationship building.

However the negative effects of physical punishment may not be observed right away, making it more dangerous to detect and fix. One study published last year in Child Abuse and Neglect, showed patterns of violence and abuse being passed from one generation to the next. The study surveyed over 100 families with children between the ages of 3 to 7. It was found that children began to use physical punishment to resolve their own problems in which we can correlate to Bandura’s theory, stating that children replicate behaviors they observe.

This theory stands for children not being able to think about alternative techniques because the only way they understood how to get to an agreement was by physically hurting someone else or themselves which was embedded through them from their uprbringing. One quote encapsulates “A child doesn’t get spanked and then run out and rob a store…(Gershoff , 2013).” It intends that a child’s thought processes and feeling’s change indirectly and that they are not necessarily uniform. Children observe the treatment they receive at home and use it within their social life to get what they desire. For example If a kid punched someone at school with intention to harm we would not only look at the kid for eliciting bad behavior but the parents who taught them how to solve problems that of which resulted in the childs bad behavior.

On the other hand, Dr. Robert Larzelere, an Oklahoma State University professor who studies parental discipline, also found that while using physical punishment can be dangerous and ineffective, if done within a certain age range it can be useful. The age range that is effective is 2 to 6 years old. It is at this age that children are only capable for following 2 to 3 part commands.

Thus using communication to solve undesired behavior in this instance may hamper the ability to prove any sort of message, because children at that age can only retain a limited amount of commands. Therefore the convenient way to correct their behavior would be to physically punish the child. The view that spanking can be used as a tool for behavioral correction is true, but there also has to be an understanding of when, why, and how to use it in order for it to be effective.

Lazarelle would say that physical punishment may be specifically used in the 2 to 6 age range if the child does not learn from other disciplinary approaches such as time out(s), shifting focus, or communication. In order for the technique of physical discipline to truly be effective, it needs to be used as a substitute and not a primary action.

There is a program known as the Parent Management Training led by Alan Kazdin, a Clinical Psychologist addressing PTSD and trauma in children and adolescents. Dr. Kazdin introduces an unorthodox strategy allowing kids to throw tantrums but enforces that they downsize it. A “technique that may sound like insanity to most parents” (Kazdin, 2003). This method allows children to control their tantrums because overtime they learn to use verbal and physical actions in a apporpriate manner.

The program also teaches parents to associate positive reinforcement when the child does something good so that it encourages a positive response from the child. The focus of this program is to create safe and non-violent environments for their kids to properly develop in. The program signifies that you have to be patient and allow the child to distinguish between what is a good and bad behavior. One quote Dr. Kazdin shares is, “You have to practice it a little bit, just like the guy (Capt. Chesley Sullenberger) landing the plane in the Hudson… Can you imagine someone saying to him, ‘There’s no need to practice in the simulator?”. Children of course need to know what a good behavior is, but they also need time and patience to understand what they get rewarded or punished for.

Using the strategy presented by Dr. Kazdin is ideal in my opinion, because “kids will be kids,” they have not fully developed in the brain and are still unsure of how to independently carry themselves. You need to teach them the right way to do so and not lead them off course by using physical punishment as the predominant solution. However, we should not shame parents who do use physical discipline because no parent would want to hear how horribly they raised their child. In Hawaii I believe the best option is to educate parents on how to properly use physical punishment as a tool for behavior management.

Alongside the proper times to engage in physical action as a form of discipline. A key principle is to feature the long term effect it may lead to such as anger, resentment or lack of relationships. However a major change in the way parents raise their children is not plausible in reference to Dr. Kazdin. It is the arrangement of implying little reinforcements for a desired behavior instead of punishment as the best way to create a safer environment and community for their kids. Creating a safe and non-violent environment for children is crucial to ensure they know how to solve problems without hurting themselves or others. B.F. Skinner, who founded operant conditioning analyzed types of reinforcement to increase a desired behavior. He used operant condition in a study of his daughter, the gist of the experiment was that when his daughter did something the observer wants they get a positive or negative reinforcement. Thus the opposing idea is if the child does something wrong they will be presented with punishers instead.

Another theory is from Skinner’s definition, which is an aversive event that decreases the behavior that it follows. What Skinner hypothesized was the form of punishment as a potential reward. The explanation is that a child seeks attention, so they trade getting spanked for their caregivers attention, this may be unsupported as a lack of attention serves a whole other issue, but for a child to get spanked in order to recieve attention is just as rightfully ineffective for their development (Berger, 2015, p. 27). Parents could also use alternatives such as taking away timeouts (or the amount of time spent in time out) in response to their child’s positive behavior. This method shows the kid that negative consequences can be reduced in response to good behavior, without using an aversive technique like spanking.

From a moral perspective Dr. Shpancer, an insight therapist, uses the justification that even though we can find evidence of spanking being ineffective and harmful to a child’s development, we can’t abandon the practice completely because it is in our human rights to raise a child depending on how we were raised. This stems from tradition, culture, and appreciated influences such as elders. An example of this is a slave, they may be efficient and get the job done and as a slave owner that is what you expect.

The owner may provide shelter and food, but yet this does not put aside the fact that the slave owner is still morally wrong. We can relate this to parents spanking their children, yes it may be the customs and tradition they’ve been submerged in but we have to consider to what extent that physical discipline is moral and necessary for the new cohort (Shpancer, 2018). When children lack physical, emotional, and cognitive maturity it is easy to use physical discipline because the child has no other way out. Nonetheless as they mature they are physically and mentally able to make decisions on their own such as hitting back, running away, or being obedient and responsive eliminating the factor to physically punish them. As they begin to think for themselves the options of punishment from the parents may decrease (Durrant, J., & Ensom, R., 2012).

As a person who experienced physical punishment, I can attest to this information. I had to learn the “hard way” of how to act and what was right versus wrong. Growing up in Hawaii I can say amongst my family and friends 100% of us are the products of physical punishment. We were raised to be tough and mature so the only way that was reinforced was through getting hit.

Personally this was the most abundant form of punishment with little intent to teach and extreme intent to scare so I wont get hit again, as the punishment grew worse for the next thing I did wrong. Our culture in Hawaii really reflects the ancient days of being a warrior. If you can endure physical and mental pain than you are strong enough to take on any challenges, so the only way to solve problems from a parental perspective was to raise a warrior (common in males just as females). This is especially true for our “kupuna” or elders, in Hawaii they’re well respected so you listened to everything they told you and you would not dispute against them as they had the equal right of physically hitting you like your parents did. Throughout elementary to high school there was a sense of masculine status, to be a man or even just a boy you had to mirror the image of a warrior.

We would not talk things out instead it was escalate directly into fighting. For example if my friends were teasing me I would not say “ Please stop, it is making me mad,” instead I would call them out and it would end up in seeing who has the stronger warrior mentality, which in this case is generated through fighting. In terms of faith in my position, it had no effect at all on the type of punishment I would receive. Being from Hawaii religion did not interfere with physical punishment because that is the most common way you would be disciplined for if you did something wrong. Neethless to say Socioeconomic Status (SES) was also not a commponent to stopping physical punishment, whether you were wealthy or in poverty, physical punishment was apart of your life growing up in Hawaii.

Looking back at those days the only religious aspect that was prevalent was faith and prayer. Faith, is my parents unwavering belief that I would and could do better and prayer being that they reached out to God to help me to solve my wrong doings. It was more about putting God first and thinking about how I could learn from my mistakes and continue to enhance my character.

This study has strengthened my views about physical punishment. Parents can have informative evidence to show them the truth behind spanking and in this case smarter and reliable ways to handle problematic situations faced with their kids. I think it is really amazing how aspirations to spank can be subsided by having more knowledge on what actions work and what actions just create more damage. I can see how a child’s development is linked to spanking because of the postivie and negative outcomes it may lead to. It is more shocking than reassuring to find out physical discipline can lead to poor moral internalization, lousy relationships among parents, and terms of mental illness such as depression, anti-social, and PTSD. Like I’ve mentioned prior getting hit was the only form of discipline for me, even till this day the culture in Hawaii stands strong with physical techniques. I completely agree to use spanking in the right forms and at the right age, but beyond that when I become a parent myself i’ll be knowledgeable on greater ways to raise a child.

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Corporal punishment doesn't work in parenting: alternative methods of punishment. (2021, May 27). Retrieved October 7, 2022 , from

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