Spanking may increase the risk for bullying behavior
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Is spanking my child increasing the risk for bullying behavior? Over half of men and women in the United States agreed that children sometimes need “a good, hard spanking.” Most parents use spanking as a discipline method based on a belief that spanking will improve the child’s behavior. But does it really work that way? Does spanking improve a child’s behavior or is it actually causing more harm than good?

October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month. Schools, organizations and communities work to raise awareness about the harmful impact of bullying behavior. In contrast to bullying behavior, acts of kindness and compassion are encouraged. We need helpful interventions to support children when bullying happens.


A child’s learning process of skills to prevent bullying behavior begins in the home. Children are not born knowing how to resolve conflicts; instead, these skills are learned behaviors. A child’s family has the strongest influence on child learning. Communities and organizations also play a role in helping children learn the use of pro-social conflict resolution skills, which include empathy for others, emotion regulation and positive problem-solving.

A key teaching tool in the home is the parent’s choice of discipline methods. Many parents still approve of spanking a child as a form of discipline. However, study after study has shown that spanking is actually linked to worse, not better, behavior in children. In a review of 75 studies that spanned over 50 years, not one study showed a connection between spanking and better behavior in children. Instead, studies report spanking leads to unintended negative outcomes in children, including increased risk for mental health problems, antisocial behavior, higher levels of aggression and lower self-esteem.

One specific article showed how parental use of spanking impacted the behaviors and judgement of children when faced with a peer conflict. It found a strong relationship between children who received spankings and their willingness to hit a peer or sibling as a way to resolve conflict. Interestingly, 100 percent of the children in the study who had never received physical punishment advocated for the use of pro-social conflict resolution when faced with a problem. Children who received spankings were more likely to use aggressive methods to resolve interpersonal conflict (Simons & Wurtele, 2010).

Children learn from an adult’s choice in discipline method. Bullying behavior requires a person-to-person interaction. In order to prevent bullying, we need to teach our children skills for emotion regulation, pro-social conflict resolution, problem-solving, and empathy for others. Effective discipline, which does not including hitting, will be the start for teaching our children these necessary life skills. Federal laws that ban the use of corporal punishment would encourage the use of safe, healthy and effective discipline practices in the home and other organizations. We all have important roles in bullying prevention and the promotion of child well-being.

Lacie Ketelhut is a program coordinator for the Center for Effective Discipline.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.