By SEAN ROWLEY
A generation ago, consequences for misbehavior at home or even in public school often involved a belt, a switch or a paddle.
Today, corporal punishment in schools is all but extinct, but many parents still employ spanking to teach toddlers right from wrong.
According to a new study published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, spanking during the first decade of life could have negative repercussions on vocabulary development and instances of aggression.
Researchers conducting the study interviewed 1,933 parents when their children were 3 years old and again when they were 5, asking whether and how often they were spanked. According to the study, more than half the mothers and a third of the fathers participating had spanked their children, with frequency declining at age 5.
Researchers assessed the children at age 9, asking 50 questions to determine aggression and vocabulary. The study revealed that maternal spanking at age 5 is associated with greater aggression and lower vocabulary scores at age 9.
Diane Weston, a local child development specialist who has raised three children, was not surprised by the study’s findings.
“Spanking can be a short-term fix, but certainly isn’t a long-term fix for ongoing behavioral issues,” said Weston. “The problem with spanking is children learn to only do the right thing when a disciplinarian is present.”
Weston’s philosophy is one of self-discipline.
“I believe children should do the right thing because they know it’s the right thing to do, not because they fear physical consequences,” said Weston. “I think spanking teaches kids to be sneaky, that they’ll only do the right thing when an authority figure is present. With younger children, spanking teaches them to problem-solve by hitting.”
Gary Gore, a retired educator and school principal, remembers when corporal punishment was withdrawn from public education.
“I believe it was withdrawn from Tahlequah Public Schools in the early 1990s,” said Gore. “I believe giving swats, if done properly, can be a consequence to a variety of actions. The problem is in this day of zero-tolerance, there’s no gray area. Teachers and administrators have to take the same action, across the board, for a certain behavior, without considering individual circumstances. You also need to make sure parents are involved to make it work.”
Gore said swats were administered as a parental choice before it was withdrawn altogether.
“We sent home a notice to parents about the infraction, offering possible actions, which could be in-house suspension or swats, and have parents choose so they would know what was going to happen.”
You can’t “punish out” the bad behavior
According to the American Psychological Association, many studies have shows that physical punishment can lead to increased aggression, anti-social behavior, physical injury and mental health problems for children.
Dr. Alan Kazdin, a Yale University psychology professor and director of Yale Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic, said spanking doesn’t work.
“You cannot punish out these behaviors that you do not want,” Kazdin told the APA. “There is no need for corporal punishment based on the research. We are not giving up an effective technique. We are saying this is a horrible thing that does not work.”
Heather Winn, Family and Consumer Sciences educator for the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, believes parents should strive to provide positive guidance during childhood.
“As children grow older and enter kindergarten, recommended guidance techniques are different from earlier years,” said Winn. “Because cognitive skills are changing, children can remember and think about their behaviors in different ways. They begin to see how their behaviors impact others. They can begin to cooperate, share and wait their turn more easily. The goal of positive guidance is to help children develop positive self-concepts and healthy functioning consciences.”
Winn offered the following tips for dealing positively with misbehavior:
• Redirect the child.
• Remove the child from the activity.
• Emphasize the positive areas of the child’s interactions.
• Set limits.
• Talk privately about the behaviors and why they cannot be allowed.
WHAT YOU SAID
The Daily Press polled its online readers, asking which statement most closely reflected their experiences with corporal punishment, or spanking. Of 291 respondents, the majority – 80 percent, or 233 voters – indicated they had been spanked as children and spank, or will spank, their own children. Sixteen percent, or 48 respondents, indicated they’d been spanked as children, but would not spank their own children. Two percent, or seven respondents, said they were not spanked as children and don’t or won’t spank their own children. One percent, or three voters, said they had not been spanked as children, but will or do spank their own children.