To Spank or Not to Spank? That Is the Question


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To spank or not to spank? That’s the question actor-couple Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan Tatum are wrestling with when it comes to their 17-month-old daughter, Everly. “Magic Mike”star Channing tells the Hollywood Reporter, “I don’t know if I’m going to spank my child or not.”

According to a 2013 Harris Poll, 78 percent of U.S. parents think that spanking is sometimes appropriate, and 67 percent say they have spanked their children. A recent study out of the University of Michigan, meanwhile, found that 30 percent of 1-year-olds had been spanked in the last month by one or both of their parents.

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But researchers aren’t so keen on the practice: One 2010 study found that frequent spanking of 3-year-olds is associated with increased risk of child aggression at age 5. The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly opposes it, stating: “Spanking is never recommended; infants may be physically harmed by a parent who strikes the child. … Whenever a parent strikes a child, it may undermine the relationship of trust that the child needs to thrive.” And a story in the American Psychological Association’s “Monitor on Psychology” notes, “Many studies have shown that physical punishment — including spanking, hitting and other means of causing pain — can lead to increased aggression, antisocial behavior, physical injury and mental health problems for children.”

There’s no question that kids can be frustrating, and it’s during those moments that parents are most likely to spank, says Dr. Tovah Klein, Director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development and author of “How Toddlers Thrive.” “That pushing of buttons and challenging parents knows no end,” Klein tells Yahoo Parenting. “There’s a lot of testing limits.”

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If you find yourself feeling especially short on patience, take a minute to collect yourself, Klein suggests. “Try to monitor your own reactions. If you are too upset, walk out of the room to regroup, or tell another parent that you need them to take over momentarily,” she says. Once you’re calm, think about another course of action. You may need to remove a child from a situation — if they’re acting up at a birthday party or family event, for example. “In the immediate moment, try to understand what is going on to cause the behavior: Is your child really angry? Overwhelmed? Or is he just overtired and you need to go home and rest? Is it that he hasn’t eaten in three hours and needs an early dinner? Children communicate with their behavior, so you can usually figure out what they need.”

Then, teach boundaries, explaining that there is a time and place for certain behaviors. Your daughter can’t hit other kids, for example, but she can hit stuffed animals, says Klein. “Kids throw food, but when you say to them, ‘if you throw food, you’re done with dinner. You can throw food into the garbage,’ that’s a boundary, and your child will respond to that.”

Spanking is more often about the parent than the child, says Dr. Laura Markham, author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids. “We spank to make ourselves feel better,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “We can’t believe our child just did that horrible thing and so we feel better by lashing out. But this isn’t an effective way to teach.” Instead, Markham suggests sitting your child down and going through four simple questions:

  • "What were you trying to accomplish?"

  • "What did you do?"

  • "How did that work out?" (For younger kids, try simply, "And then what happened?")

  • "What else could you have done that you can try next time?"

This process should work for children ages 3 to 12, Markham says. “Remind yourself that your child must have been really upset to misbehave like that, and try to show empathy,” she says. “Building a connection is the only way you can hope to build change.”