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From ‘Naughty Step’ to smack, know the impacts of disciplining your child

Fifty years of research has found that children who are physically chastised, the more likely they are to defy their parents

Eve Dugdale

Published: Updated:

When it comes to disciplining your child, what is your method of choice?

Grounding, the naughty step, or possibly a smack?

If you’re more likely to raise your hand to address any disobedience you may be surprised to hear it could cause more than a scowl or red mark.

Fifty years of research has found that children who are physically chastised, the more likely they are to defy their parents. But worse still, scientists have found they are also more prone to mental health problems, aggressive outbursts, cognitive difficulties and anti-social behavior.

Professors from the University of Texas at Austin and University of Michigan analyzed 50 years of research involving more than 160,000 children. They found children who were smacked (hit with an open hand without causing injury) were slightly more likely to be aggressive and break rules later in primary school.

This led one of the professors behind the research, Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, to say that spanking does the opposite of what parents usually want it to do.

Dubai-based Bakr Ghunaim says he was smacked a lot as a child and, while it stopped him misbehaving, he wasn’t a troublesome child to begin with. His brother, on the other hand, was, and it did little to curb his behavior.

He explains: “My brother was very naughty and continued to be!

“It was only my dad, my mom never did it. It was either smacking or belting - whichever was available. Some of my friends were punished the same way but most of them weren't.”

Bakr says his dad treated his children the way he was brought up, and culture played a part as well.

He adds: “It was the way my dad was raised and he thought it was the right way while my mother wasn't smacked so she treated me the same way.

“In my culture it wasn't frowned upon, on the contrary it was expected. Those who weren't smacked were considered to be sophisticated and ahead of the time or people who were a little spoilt and not tough enough. Parents used to tell our teachers at school to not spare us any sort of punishment because they thought it was the best way to make us behave! Later on this changed and it became uncommon and frowned upon. I definitely won't smack my children no matter how tempting it might be! I am sure I can find other ways to discipline them.”

Violation of the child’s rights

Just a couple of months ago, the Saudi Committee for the Protection of Children against Violence and Abuse had launched a campaign to help parents learn better ways to discipline their children.

It came about after a health official had warned that smacking children with the aim of disciplining or making them study to get better grades is a misconception and amounts to violation of the child’s rights. A doctor involved in the campaign said children too needed to understand more about different forms of abuse.

Osama Tinkbakji’s parents never hit their children when he was young and it’s taught him that smacking is not the correct way to discipline your offspring.

Osama, who is Syrian, explains: “I think kids will only do something annoying to grab their parents’ attention when their needs are not satisfied or their time is not fulfilled or planned well.

“Children who grow up being smacked and hit will have many psychological problems when they become adults and this will have bad consequences on their personalities. I believe using violence towards your children will increase the aggressive emotions in them, demotivate them from being active members of society and will decrease their self-esteem and make them feel they are less important or valuable than their friends and other family members.”

Dubai-based psychologist and new mum Devika Singh Mankani echoes Osama’s concerns about smacking children.

She says: “Based on observations with children and families, it undermines trust, creates a cycle of aggression, and doesn't present a positive solution to children as they get stuck in a state of fear.”

Devika acknowledges that parents need to find a solution for bad behavior. But she suggests trying something less physical.

“Behavior charts, time out, removal of privileges and sometimes physical touch are more helpful that smacking. Physical touch can mean a gentle squeeze on the hand or shoulder or placing your child's head in your hands so they can make eye contact.
“I think any kind of violence in childhood can cause psychological trauma which is the bed of mental distress. Emotional and verbal abuse is a form of violence and can be just as traumatic as physical violence.”

And alternative punishments do work, says Jordanian Reef Fakhoury. Her parents took away privileges instead of hitting their children.

She explains: “My mom smacked me in the back of the head once when I was nine or so. She was so frustrated with me about my homework but then felt so bad about it she couldn't stop apologizing. It was very out of character from her side and it was not how her and my dad agreed to raise us, as in when all else fails hit them. If I am to become a parent one day I think I'll discipline my child in the ways my parents disciplined us - grounding, taking away our phones, TV, video games but not hitting. I don't believe in violence neither physical nor verbal.”

While Lebanese mum of two Lina Fakih admits that being smacked did stop her misbehaving, she can’t discipline her children this way.

She says: “A few times when my children have done something when I’ve told them not to and it could have caused an accident, I have slapped their hands or legs. I have always done it in the heat of the moment though, panicking, and then felt terrible.”

Do you smack your children? We asked parents from other parts of the world on their thoughts on the discipline dilemma:

Angie Timms: “I did smack my two older boys but I decided not to with my youngest.
“With the older two I used to smack their legs when they played up but it really didn’t do any good. I was 21 when I had my first and 36 when I had my youngest so there was a lot of time in between and now I’m totally against it. I think you should sit them down and talk to them, give them time out.”

Steve Johanson: “I remember my mum catching me swearing in the back garden when I was young and she washed my mouth out with soap and washing up liquid. But, even worse, she told me she was going to tell the teachers at school what I had done and that was far worse to me. I really believe psychological abuse can be worse than violence.

“They had the cane when I was at school and it really did make you think twice about doing something wrong. I do think, if you have it in you to be a bad one, you will be bad regardless of the punishment but I do believe that, for the majority of children, a bit of corporal punishment in school required, especially in schools in Britain at the moment.”

Mary Mcrory: "I know it sounds horrendous but I had an old-fashioned school belt. The children had to really cross the line for it to be used so I only smacked my three a couple of times in their lives. After one time all I had to do was get it out and all bad behavior stopped immediately.

“I genuinely believe every parent needs some way of making sure their children do what they are told. For example, if you are in a strange street and you need them to stop when you tell them to so they don't get run over. There are far too many kids defying their parents - I see it all the time - and they are being allowed to put themselves in danger.”