The Psychological Impact of Spanking Your Kids

By Casey Wheeler

Corporal punishment has long been a hot-button issue for parents. Many (if not most) parents spank their children, and in most polite society it remains an appropriate behavioral adjustment mechanism to pop a child on the wrist. While we all know that hitting is bad, and abuse even worse, what’s more difficult to understand is the psychological impact of spanking your children. Spare the rod and spoil the child, at least for a minute. Here are six psychological impacts of spanking your kids.

  1. Impedes Curiosity

    According to famed educator Maria Montessori, we should conceptualize of a child’s hands as the physical means by which they discover the world. Spanking your children on the hands – a literal slap on the wrist – could make them less curious, more mentally stunted individuals. Avoid spanking children on the hand, as it’s often a cosmetic gesture at best. If the hand is the child’s symbol of their reach in the world, take care not to communicate that it shouldn’t stretch.

  2. Incites Future Aggression

    Consistently, studies prove that children spanked in early childhood are more likely than their peers to be aggressive in later childhood. Misplaced corporal punishment from parents might send children the message that resolving social problems with violence is acceptable. Whether you agree or disagree, the prevailing wisdom here is this: If you don’t want your kid to be a bully, don’t bully them.

  3. Breeds Manipulators

    When a child is spanked (or put in time out), they don’t always get a clear signal that their action was wrong – after becoming school-aged especially, children often learn instead that their action was caught. Many children don’t have the capacity to differentiate here, and they internalize the punishment as a consequence for being found out. Children then learn to focus on manipulation and sneakiness to get away with their own aims. Redirecting ethical actions may be more functional than spanking in the long term.

  4. Dehumanization

    Corporal punishment and expressions of violence that are tied with anger devalues and dehumanizes both the parent and the child. It forces the instance to be all about power, domination, and physical punishment, versus a learning or corrective experience. When children get spanked, they learn that might makes right, and might learn very few productive lessons. There’s nothing that hurts a child more than a fundamental misconception about why things are happening to them. If you engage in corporal punishment, be certain that you don’t do so out of anger. And be certain to explain discipline and positive choice-making to your child.

  5. Perpetuates Abuse

    While you may think there’s nothing wrong with a spanking to adjust behavior, your child may not be receiving that message. Hitting in all forms from a young age internalizes and normalizes the process in children, often communicating to them that violence and aggression are a part of life. Parents who come from abusive families must take care not to hit, or to verbally or otherwise abuse their children. Perpetuating the abuse cycle might not be intentional, but critical and structural thinking may be necessary for creative, alternative solutions.

  6. Induces Trauma

    Hitting can be as difficult for parents as it can be for children, and oftentimes spanking provokes anger, bad memories, and past trauma in both children and adults. Corporal punishment is an effective corrective tool, but not an effective communicating one. Spanking in children can also provoke sexual problems later in life.