Once common practice for parents, spanking has fallen out of favor as a punishment for children. And with good reason. Past research has indicated that physical punishment has negative consequences on child development.
But most studies focused on the short term: less than one year. Now new research from the University of Missouri shows that physical punishment experienced during infancy can have a lasting effect on children, impacting their behavior and temperament through fifth grade and beyond.
The study, published in Developmental Psychology, looked at data from 1,840 mothers and children, all of whom were at or below the federal poverty level. Information was collected when children were 15 months old, 25 months old and in the fifth grade. Research methods included surveys of mothers and children, home visits and interviews with fifth-grade teachers.
The study did find a difference between African-American and European-American children. If African-American children experienced severe punishment at 15 months, they were more likely to exhibit increased aggressive and delinquent behavior by the fifth grade and less likely to demonstrate positive behaviors, like helping others. No link was found between punishment and negative emotions for European-American children though, for both parties, obvious irritability on the part of the parents also led to poor behavior.
“Our findings show how parents treat their children at a young age, particularly African-American children, significantly impacts their behavior,” said study author Gustavo Carlo, Millsap Professor of Diversity at MU and director of the MU Center for Family Policy and Research. “It is very important that parents refrain from physical punishment as it can have long-lasting impacts. If we want to nurture positive behaviors, all parents should teach a child how to regulate their behaviors early.”
The research comes at a time when a Texas school district recently approved paddling as a form of punishment for its students. Texas is one of 19 states that allow corporal punishment or don’t regulate for or against it.
Instead of resorting to physical punishment, experts recommend that parents follow a set of guidelines that make for fair, nonviolent and effective discipline. Tips include using compromise, staying calm and demonstrating empathy for your child.
[h/t: Science Daily]