Discipline without damage: The impact of physical punishment on children’s wellbeing

“When you know better, you do better.” – Maya Angelou.

It is surprising to think that just last century using physical punishment to modify children’s behaviour was not considered a form of abuse. Since that time what we know from the research has grown considerably.

Studies have shown numerous detrimental long term outcomes for children when physical punishment (such as spanking, slapping or other kinds of striking by parents) is used.

The most current, evidence based research (when any kind of physical punishment is used in the household) has shown those children are at increased risk of;

  • Physical injury and mental health problems.
  • Slower cognitive development and adverse affects on academic achievement.
  • Aggression (against parents, siblings, peers and even animals).
  • Delinquency.
  • Antisocial behaviour. The effects on the child’s outcomes when they themselves become adults include, increased risk of;
  • Family violence.
  • Psychiatric disorders.
  • Mental health problems including depression, anxiety and general psychological maladjustment.
  • Substance abuse (use of drugs and alcohol). Internationally renowned parenting expert Dr Dan Siegel, says that ‘discipline means to teach, not to punish’. Physical punishment does not teach children how to behave, but rather compliance out of fear of pain and shame. It shows children to avoid being caught and hide the behaviour (that we want to change) from visibility in the future. Aggressive methods only reinforce to a child detrimental ways to solve conflict and disagreements. To change these outdated, unhealthful methods of discipline as parents we must actively seek to learn and implement peaceful resolutions. Effective discipline techniques are firm but fair, involve setting limits, consequences for behaviour and importantly also reward the behaviours we want to encourage. If you need more specific help in refining as well as implementing peaceful parenting methods with children so they can be successful, there are parenting training courses available such as 1, 2, 3 Magic. You can also contact Baptcare or Relationships Australia for some free advice. For some general information on appropriate discipline strategies that support the healthful development of your child visit http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/discipline_strategies.html

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