Say no to physical punishment!

Recently, the press published the results of a recent study that established a link between increased aggressiveness in children and the use of corporal punishment by parents.

“Children who are victim of corporal punishment tend to be more aggressive with their parents, their brothers and sisters, their friends and, later, their spouse. This is the conclusion of two Canadian researchers after an exhaustive analysis of studies on the subject led in the past 20 years (…) The two researchers noted that a study led on 500 families demonstrated that when parents were trained to reduce the use of physical punishment, the challenging behaviour of the children was also reduced.” did we find on CBC’s French counterpart.

Smacking is not the solution

Even if we should not make parents feel overly guilty for a moment of weakness when they gave a little slap to make their child obey, physical punishment is never a good way to show parental authority. No more than screams, threats, guilt or excessive and humiliating punishment.

Although it gives the parents an illusory feeling of efficiency in the short run, spanking and other physical punishment can cause serious problems to children and undermine discipline.

The effects of physical punishment

The child who is hit doesn’t take responsibility for his actions and usually sees himself as the victim of his “tormentor parent”. He does not learn to judge his actions or to replace them with something more adequate but instead, he learns to lie and to avoid getting caught by the parent that he fears.

Also, smacks usually trigger an anger that the child will try to repress and chances are that he will get his revenge or exteriorize elsewhere, on his little brother for example… Indeed, how can you make him understand that he must not hit his little brother when he refuses to obey?

Other children will show symptoms of stress and anxiety related to fear and guilt as well as a lower self-esteem.

Escalating violence

Moreover, the use of physical force could cause an escalation of violence. If, to force David to stay on his chair, the parent hits him on his bottom and David, rebellious, decides to keep taunting him, what is he going to do? Hit harder? Hit twice?

I once met a father who was completely lost after breaking two ribs on his son to put him in the bath by force and another child who had an opened wound on her chin because her mom gave her a slap and she lost balance and hit herself on a desk. Those parents were not violent by nature but they regularly used slaps or physical coercion to impose limits to their children.

Set a limit

Finally, children need clear and firm limits and many of them feel the need to regularly test those limits. Because of that, the one for whom the ultimate limit is physical constraint will unfortunately look for it in every other adult in authority. Will parents accept, then, that the teacher, babysitter or grandparents use the same methods? And what will they do when the child becomes stronger than the parent?

Clear, firm and constant rules, realistic expectations and a respectful family atmosphere will generally result in adequate behaviour. When, despite it all, the child behaves badly, the consequences of his actions must be appropriate and logical; it must be the result of his choices. Remedial measures are also a good way to give a child a sense of responsibility.

What to do?

However, if a pause is necessary for the child to calm down and cooperate, withdrawal on a chair, in his room or in a quiet place may be imposed with a firm and respectful attitude. If the temptation to hit is too strong, the parent himself should withdraw in a quiet place and go for a walk to regain control of his emotions. It is better to react too late than too much.

Parents who do not manage to impose such limits or who have a very difficult child should consult a professional who will analyze the situation and propose strategies without violence.

Nancy Doyon
Family Coach

Nancy Doyon has been a family coach and special education teacher for nearly twenty years. She has worked in youth centers, childcare centers, CLSC and primary and secondary schools in the Quebec region. Trainer and lecturer for several years, she is also very active in the media as a Family columnist. She contributes regularly to Canal Vox’s Bonheur total, as well as on Rhythme FM and FM 93 in Quebec. Her NANCY SOS report is also presented each week on channel V’s show Famille 2.0. In addition to writing for, she regularly publishes articles about children’s education in La Culbute magazine and on her website Dimension éducative.  She is also cofounder of the company Dimension éducative, which offers family, academic and professional coaching. She also recently published her first book, Parent gros bon sens : mieux comprendre mon enfant pour mieux intervenir.

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