Spanking can cause mental health problems in children, study suggests

Posted at 12:15 PM, Apr 27, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-28 00:35:14-04

SALT LAKE CITY — It’s been a long-running question to parents for years – if your children misbehave, do you spank them?

“My husband and I personally don’t spank our children, we believe in positive reinforcement and it seems to help,” said mother of three young children, Brooke Neilson.

“I wanted to spank them more than I did,” admitted Heide Nelson, a mother of two now full-grown children.  “But I would allow myself to spank them if it was a matter of if they were in danger.”

Salt Lake City’s Children’s Center’s Executive Director and family psychologist Dr. Douglas Goldsmith said he believes there is no reason to hit a child.

“We also know when that parent is the perpetrator of abuse and spanking is abuse it's hidden,” said Dr. Goldsmith.  “That makes children reluctant to go, ‘I'm afraid if I go and tell dad or go up to mom what if she hits me again?’ That sets up a whole consolation of problems we don't want. It makes children avoid the parents.”

In a study from both the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Michigan, experts state spanking can lead to aggression and antisocial behaviors.  They stated they used data from 50 years of research and more than 160,000 children. They also said the study showed “the more frequently children were spanked the more likely they were to exhibit these undesirable behaviors.”

“I don't know if we are ever going to get parents to really stop hitting but they should think very carefully about the message they are giving the child about how to manage their emotions,” said Dr. Goldsmith.  “Parents need to show I can be frustrated with you and still treat you very appropriately.”

Dr. Goldsmith recommends a time-out and a calm discussion with the misbehaving child, or a parent can tell the child they are going to leave the room and when the child is ready to listen and behave they will talk with them.

Here is a link to the study: