Smacking Is Proven To Be Ineffective – Here’s 11 Reasons Why

Smacking Is Proven To Be Ineffective - Here's 11 Reasons Why

These days, it’s common to hear adults argue that smacking (or spanking, depending where you come from) will sort out the problematic children of today, and parents are becoming too soft.

Research and polls continue to show around 85-90% of Australian parents (with similar results overseas) believe smacking is an acceptable punishment for children.

Clearly, smacking is not “sorting kids out” as they believe to be the case.

Contrary to popular belief, there isn’t a problem with “kids of today”.

You see, parents complain about kids behaviour exactly the same way they did many years ago.

The following quote was attributed to Socrates (469–399 B.C.), which shows our ancestors of long ago felt the same way about children:

“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”

In addition, many pro-spanking parents also refer to the phrase “spare the rod and spoil the child” as being from the Bible. However, the phrase in those words originated from Samuel Butler’s satirical poem, “Hudibras” which was published in 1662. His poem (and novel called ‘The Way of All Flesh’), was written to expose and condemn violence against children. Yet, it has been adopted by some parents as a means to justify corporal punishment and other physical actions against children.

Parenting Is In Crisis

In her brilliant book, 100 Ways To Raise Drug Free Children, Developmental psychologist Aletha Solter writes: “The root cause of most behavioural problems, including substance abuse, is not a lack of discipline but rather a lack of connection.”

The fact is, parenting in is crisis (here are 9 reason why). Many parents of today — and even yesterday — lack the parenting skills they once had. One of the big reasons for this is due to our lifestyles being far from ideal, as far as family goes. Once upon a time, it was a village that helped to raise a child, not just one or two parents.

Parents learned about parenting from a young age, by growing up and observing parenting in their close-knit community. Kids had more freedom to explore, climb, run and burn off pent up energy — rather than fight over Playstation controllers. Parents were much less time poor, and were able to be more present (emotionally and physically) with their children. Community was everything, and there was much less in the way of behavioural problems.

Today, we have a much more detached, disconnected, unsupported and isolated lifestyle. There are behaviours out of control which are not due to a lack of smacking, but due to a myriad of environmental factors. These include diet (an overload of sugar, wheat/grains, preservatives, colours and other additives, which create hyped up and unfocused kids), excessive screen time, parents not knowing how to help their children through emotional storms – choosing to punish them for their feelings instead of talking them through, and parents working crazy hours just to get enough money coming in.

Kids crave regular, quality one on one time with their parents, which is so hard to juggle with modern family life. It’s not an optimal environment for children to flourish. There are going to be repercussions, and punishing the symptom — the communication for help — is going to get us nowhere. Blaming today’s children for this is just folly. Forget bandaid fixes, try to understand the root cause.

Discipline Is Not The Same As Punishment

It’s important to understand that discipline is NOT punishment.

Parenting expert and IBCLC Pinky McKay says: “There is so much confusion around the issue of discipline. And so much fear. Really, it is simple: the word discipline is derived from Latin, ‘to teach’. Almost certainly, by not responding to a baby’s cries, you will teach him not to cry. Almost certainly, you will also teach him there is no point reaching out to another human being – that he can’t make a difference (to his discomfort/pain/hunger/thirst/loneliness), so what is the use of trying? Consider, how many adults do you know who live their lives believing: ‘what is the use – I can’t make a difference, anyway?’ This is learned helplessness.”

Yet so many parents will tell you…. “I was left to cry/spanked/insert other and I turned out okay!” The thing is, we don’t know how we (or our children) would have turned out had we not been spanked or smacked. We still may have learned about respect or kindness, but would we still have that anxiety of lack of impulse control? Codependency? Who knows. All we do know, is that young children are being treated taught to obey else they will experience physical pain. Some argue that the fact parents think it’s okay to smack or spank is a big sign that they didn’t “turn out okay”.

Spanking/Smacking Around The World

Spanking children is illegal in 29 countries around the globe, including Sweden (and aren’t they a bunch of out of control hooligans?!) who were the very first country to ban spanking in 1979. This means there’s a whole generation of non-spanked children.

Australia is not one of the 29 countries, yet if you hit a woman (or man) in Australia, you can be charged with assault or arrested. If you hit an animal, you can be charged with abuse or arrested. In a world where we’re trying to eliminate women, men and animals being hit and abused (yet it sadly seems to be increasing) we still smack our children, all the while, we’re teaching them not to hit?

Here are some big reasons why it is emotionally and physically damaging to smack your children as well as some alternative solutions to smacking that do work:

#1: There Is Absolutely No Evidence That Smacking Is Effective

Smacking doesn’t work. It may force your child to comply for a short period, but it is not an effective method of preventing the behaviour from being repeated. Long term studies have found that not only does spanking not work, it could actually cause your child to have emotional problems later in life. While there have been plenty of studies into smacking, not one has found any positive associations for smacking.

Aletha Solter writes: “Many books suggest that children need more ‘discipline,’ meaning that parents should punish their children for breaking rules. However, strict authoritarian control often backfires by causing children to rebel.”

#2: It Teaches Violence

Children become what they see, not what they hear, so your actions will become your child’s beliefs about who they need to be and what they need to do. Even if its not noticeable right away while they are little, it forms who they become as a person. Do you want to teach your child that it is acceptable to use physical violence and/or lashing out in anger as a way of controlling another person, or making something fair or right? That is what your child is learning through being smacked.

It is all too often that the child being bullied becomes the bully, due to the abuse of power leaving the child feeling powerless (and often resentful). They can seek an outlet for this bad feeling, or learn to bury it, which is equally unhealthy. Studies have found that children who are spanked are more likely than their peers to develop aggression later on.

In an article from Science Daily (titled ‘Spanking children slows cognitive development and increases risk of criminal behavior, expert says’), Murray Straus, founder and co-director of the Family Research Lab and Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of New Hampshire, says “More than 100 studies have detailed these side effects of spanking, with more than 90 percent agreement among them. There is probably no other aspect of parenting and child behaviour where the results are so consistent,” he says.

#3: It Doesn’t Deal With The Root Cause Of The Behaviour

Smacking may stop a behaviour temporarily in its tracks – it may enforce COMPLIANCE in that moment – but does absolutely zero for teaching a child a life lesson on what was wrong and how to appropriately deal with it.

It is important to work out why your child is behaving in a certain way. Is he tired, bored, in need of attention, or is he dealing with emotions he can’t yet express or make sense of? Smacking doesn’t address the root cause of the problem, and so will not help to meet your child’s needs. Instead of jumping to corporal punishment, instead try to work with your child to establish what the unmet need is, and then address the behaviour once that has been met.

#4 Your Child Will Learn To Avoid YOU, Not The Behaviour

Your child is probably going to be more focused on the punishment than the behaviour. Rather than learning not to snatch because it upset his little sister, your child is learning not to snatch in front of you because he might get smacked. Your child will be feeling fear, and not focusing on the message. Talking to your child calmly and setting a good example is a much more effective way to impart wisdom.

#5: It Could Affect Your Relationship With Your Child

Most parents want to be loved and respected by their child, but in order to achieve this, it is important to love and respect your child. Treat your child with empathy, compassion and love. If you dole out corporal punishment, you may find that your child is scared of you at times and is confused why you abuse your size or power in this way. If your friend or partner turned round and hit you one day because you did something they didn’t like, would this have an impact on the way you thought of them? Would you still be in a relationship with them? Would you have your child stay in a friendship or relationship with someone who did this to them?

In an article from Psychology Today titled Research on Spanking: It’s Bad For ALL Kids, Darcia Narvaez, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame writes: “It destroys trust. Children trust their parents just a little less. They build a self-protective shield around themselves in terms of relationships generally. Children increasingly mistrust the motives of others and become a more threat reactive. It leads to aggressive expectations — they are ready to aggress first before they are aggressed against.”

#6: Just Because It Was Done To You, Does Not Mean It Is Right

One reason that parents often use to justify violence, is that it ‘never did them any harm’. Not only is this not scientific, it is often used to dismiss bad habits and undesirable behaviours. Some would argue that the very fact you have grown into an adult who believes corporal punishment in an acceptable way to interact with your child, would prove that perhaps it did have a lasting effect (and it has caused harm). How do you feel that you cope with anger and frustration in general? Do people or situations annoy you often? Do you have a problem with controlling your anger sometimes – or often? Or are you great at remaining calm and present in most situations?

Pinky McKay says: “Instead of clinging to the justification, ‘I was smacked, and there is nothing wrong with me’, (how do you know?), we each need to do an inventory of our parenting toolboxes: we can ask ourselves, what have we learnt and absorbed as we grew up, from our own parents and our culture? What would be useful to keep and use and what will we discard? This will vary for each of us but by being conscious of our parenting choices, perhaps our own children will not have to experience non-violent parenting as a second language.”

#7: It Exploits The Fact That You Are Bigger

Smacking relies upon the fact that you are bigger and stronger than your child. In fact, as you tower above him, even so much as an angry word could be terrifying for your child. By smacking your child, you are taking control of him because you are bigger and therefore physically able to do so. To them, it is not fair because they are helpless to defend themselves, which can build resent and a sense of things not being fair in life.

Remember, your child will grow, and may one day be much bigger, quicker and stronger than you. How are you going to control your child with these learnt behaviours then?

#8: It Takes Control Away From Your Child

Your child should be in control of his own body. It is very important to teach children about consent, healthy relationships and respect. Your child’s understanding of these issues starts from day one, and will be greatly affected by your interactions with him. If you hit your child, then you are taking control of his body without his consent, and therefore you teach that consent is not important.

#9: You Could Hurt Your Child

This should probably be the first point on this list. Smacking is designed to hurt, and so it hurts. By smacking your child, you are inflicting pain. Why would someone who loves you, want to physically hurt you? This relationship dynamic can be very confusing for a child and as mentioned above, can damage your relationship with them and cause lack of trust and disconnect.

Who would want their children to grow up and believe that physical pain is a normal, acceptable part of a loving relationship?

#10: You Are Not Modelling A Healthy Way To Deal With Anger

If you hit when you are angry, you are teaching your child that violence is the correct way to deal with negative emotions. You are a role model for your child, whether you like it or not, and your child is learning by observing everything you do. If you hit, your child learns to hit.

“I strongly believe that good discipline is about maintaining our own dignity and our child’s dignity, and smacking does neither. I am bewildered by the logic that if an older child lashes out at a younger one, this is bullying or how, at a certain age, hitting another person becomes assault, and we certainly wouldn’t condone being slapped by our partners, yet we can accept adults smacking little children.” — Pinky McKay

#11: Where Can You Go From Smacking?

Countless studies have found that smacking is not effective – this is a proven FACT. It may force your child into compliance in the short run, but studies have found the “bad” behaviour could be repeated within just ten minutes. Though many parents claim only to smack as a last resort, studies have found that in fact most parents move to violent punishment pretty quickly, sometimes within less than a minute of the “bad” behaviour beginning. As the punishment proves to be ineffective, you may find the smacks growing harder and more frequent, as you struggle to “control” your child’s behaviour.

Parent Effectiveness Training (created by award-winning psychologist and three-time Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, Dr. Thomas Gordon in 1962) points out these problems with authoritarian parenting:

  • Externally compliant, but internally depressed and defeated
  • Compliant but internally enraged, build-up of aggressiveness
  • Feigned sycophancy in aims to manipulate
  • Fear of trying/fear of failure
  • Lying
  • Forming “groups” in order to fight back in numbers
  • Rebelling/outlashing – especially after long periods of submission
  • Withdrawing from parents and social interactions
  • Tendency to seek out adult relationships that are controlling (acting as the controlee)
  • Increased probability of developing anxiety disorders
  • Tendency to forfeit and ignore their own needs
  • Self-imposed, impossible attempts at perfection

There are also problems with permissive parenting. Instead, P.E.T. recommends authoritative parenting – where no-one loses.

BellyBelly also highly recommends Brene Brown’s The Gifts Of Imperfect Parenting:

Smacking Is Proven To Be Ineffective - Here's 11 Reasons Why

What About The Science Behind Spanking?

Doctor Elizabeth Gershoff has been studying spanking for over 14 years. Please take the time to watch this very important clip where she is interviewed on what science says about smacking children.

So What Now?

Parents can often feel at a loss with no ‘tools’ to deal with problematic behaviour. It does get MUCH easier when you’ve learnt some effective but also respectful methods for dealing with conflict. BellyBelly recommends Parent Effectiveness Training which has courses worldwide, and is also available in a book. You can find more information on really helpful books that will help you manage problem behaviour in our recommended reading parenting book list.

BellyBelly highly recommends the following steps for preventing behaviour issues:

  • Cutting down screen time and/or have screen free days (ipods/tv/games) which research has repeatedly shown to be detrimental to both physical and mental health. Check out this article and clip.
  • Cut sugar, processed foods, preservatives and grains out of your children’s diets where possible. Choose whole foods, good fats for brain development, protein to keep them full for longer and blood sugar levels more stable, and of course, greens and veggies
  • Spending more time outdoors and in nature, both as a family as well as usual daily play
  • Plan family holidays, outings and adventures to create memories and to have something to look forward to. It doesn’t need to be expensive or far.
  • As mentioned above, read GOOD books or articles to understand normal behaviour and development. Children’s brains are still developing, they are not capable of managing the storms in their brains like an adult.
  • Do a GOOD course in parenting like Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.). Don’t feel stupid or useless. Your kids will thank you for it and you’ll have a happier home.
  • Learn about and practice presence and mindfulness. You can work out many more problems and keep calm when you know how to be present and mindful, rather than a storm in your head. Calm on the inside = calm on the outside.
  • Be patient and understanding. Have realistic expectations on your children. Imagine yourself as a baby – how would you have others treat you?

“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless”.

― L.R. Knost

Recommended Reading:

Last Updated: May 28, 2016



  1. I don’t believe in abuse. But i do believe in spanking. Some parents over do it and need to tone it down. But i see nothing wrong with a little spanking now and then. If i tell my kid don’t touch something and explain why they shouldn’t touch it and they keep touching it two and three times after repetitive warning then i spank. It also depends on the age of the child because a child over 5 should be able to understand and comply. A baby or a toddler however you might have to put the object out of reach without spanking. I don’t see why i should be telling a 7 year old over and over you are not to touch that. This is where i spank. Spanking plus go to your room. Some parents spank and forget to love. Love should always be in the mix.

    1. Hello, I also don’t believe in abuse, but share your view on smacking a child over the age of 7 if I have to keep repeating myself, let’s think about crossing a busy road, if your child wont listen to you in potential dangerous position, he can lose his life, some smacking saves lives!

  2. Spanking or hitting or whatever word you choose does not go hand in hand with love. Keep your hands to yourself and learn other methods

  3. In a perfect world where all kids are the same you would be right. But in the real world you are wrong. 4 kids and 6 grandkids so far, each one was and is different as to how they respond to discipline. No matter which type you use, it will not work with all kids! OPTIONS are NEEDED! Except for reason: My parents did it to me, your point is not valid for most kids

  4. I’ve always found spanking contradictory. We try to teach our kids is to use words to resolve their conflicts, not violence, then use violence against them to resolve conflict we have with them? How can you teach a child to not hit others, by hitting them?

    A lot of people justify it as there being a difference between spanking and abuse (the intent and purpose) – but the simple fact is that there is not. A child’s understanding of why this is occurring (and people’s justification for using this method) is scarily similar to that of domestic violence victims and perpetrators. Would you condone an adult man “giving his wife a tap” because she didn’t do what he asked, when he asked? A man violent towards his partner will use the exact same justifications for his behaviour, and see it as just as acceptable, as smacking parents do.

  5. This was one of the dumbest posts I’ve ever read. …

    We tower over them, so spaking would be unfair, and teach our kids that’s the world is unfair.

    Really? Wake up people the world is unfair, deal with it. I disagree with just about everything this article said. I’m from a family of 12 children, and have 3 babes of my own. And we have all turned out great. A spaking here and there has only done us good.

    1. Nah. One of the ‘dumpest’ statements at this age of abundant, free information based on scientific knowledge and education is to use your proudly-maintained ignorance to preserve methods of the dark ages-like inflicting physical pain just because your child ignores your self-presumed ‘authority’ status. It’s quite ironic that you call yourself ‘great’ when you lack on empathy, intelligence and willingness to ameliorate to such a degree.

      ‘Great one’.

      Keep you hands off your child.

  6. Bill I do agree with you. I do believe in spanking my child and if you cup your hand it makes the sound and a small sting. Its more the sound that gets my son to stop. We then talk about what happened and why he got spanked. I explain what could happen if he keeps doing it when he gets older. So we decided to do a reward system and that has been helping out a lot. He looks at it and will go can we talk about what happened yesterday or this afternoon. I would like some advise. I do believe that you try everything no matter what. If one thing does not work try something else until you find what works.

    1. Wysdom,

      You are using behaviouristic methods. If you find a behaviour damaging, not for your authority but for your child’s own good, and feel that such behaviours is incompatible to age (ex a toddler with an underdeveloped prefrontal lobe may well throw tantrums if you try to win their blind compliance rather than trust, so hitting them is in itself completely fruitless), try to get to the root of it. Children learn by example. The worst thing that can happen to your child is to learn and justify physical violence-I was hit because I deserved it. There is brilliant literature out there on peaceful parenting, that helps people raise confident, respectful, brilliant adults. Yes, parents may use different methods but the infliction of physical pain is an uncivilised, abusive method. Violence is violence. If you slap your wife on her knee, nothing will ‘happen’, but it’s still physical violence. Adults do not become perfect once they reach adulthood. A child is at your mercy, he deserves your guidance and trust, not abuse.

  7. “Your child should have control of his body.” “You are taking control of his body without his consent.” These have to be the DUMBEST statements I’ve ever read! When you make your child put a coat on before he goes outside, you’re taking control of his body. When you make him take a bath when he doesn’t want to, you’re taking control without his consent! Come on people, get a grip. Children are not miniature adults who can do whatever they want.

    1. Merci, your post is one of the DUMPEST posts I’ve ever read. Essentially you are claiming your responsibility to maintain your child’s physical intergrity (health and bath) equals depriving them from it (by hurting their bodies).

      No, children are not ‘miniature’ adults. They have developing pre-frontal lobes and grey mass, which spanking has been proven SCIENTIFICALLY, over and over again, to impair. Children are not miniature adults but are not there to obey every idiot’s need to play authority. You need to respect them and try to understand how they feel and why they do what they do. Your children are certainly not supposed to do what YOU want either.

  8. I ask the question of the adults now that went through corporal punishment, you know the ones who run our country and councils. The ones 4 inning our businesses. If what they lived through destroyed their lives. Did that attitude make you a bad person? Did being shown the real limits of the religion show you a negative or positive attitude.

  9. What a great article, certainly makes you stop and think about what you’re doing with your children and the impact that may have on them. Totally agree with all those steps, very practical and useful πŸ™‚

  10. Basically let the children do as they wish and learn on their own, don’t hit, talk harshly to them or even look at them crossly as it may hurt their delicate feelings. If they are about to do something that will badly hurt them, try to get their attention quietly so that you don’t startle or offend them. If that can’t be done in time to avoid them hurting themselves we will simply chalk that up as a painful growth experience. Above all don’t take the control away from them. Model good albeit severely detached behavior so they know (or possibly wonder) that you care about their feelings. And everyone knows, feelings are important. They should be allowed to control your life.

  11. The American College of Paediatricians finds nothing wrong with smacking provided it’s done within certain limits.
    They don’t seem to have a very high opinion of most smacking ‘research’. More on the pitfalls of believing every research paper that’s produced:

    I had two children, one well-behaved, one wild. The ‘naughty step’ only works for tame children. Some young children also don’t have a good concept of time, so ‘grounding’ them even a few hours later in the day has no effect. There are many parental strategies – humour, distraction, time-out, the naughty step, smacking – to be used appropriately.

    Children are not miniature adults. They don’t drive cars. They can’t vote. Their cortex is still developing basic skills between the ages of 2 and 6 (abstract thinking, stream of consciousness, humour, creativity, language or maths skills etc). And so we shouldn’t treat them like miniature adults.

    1. Personally, I think we should treat children like human beings with feelings, thoughts, emotions and pain receptors. The old saying, do onto others as you’d like to be treated.

      No matter how little or big they are, I don’t think my children deserve being treated as if they are lesser of anything – less intelligent, emotionally developed… they still feel, hurt and get confused just like we do. And they learn better when we are kinder – because they also learn how to treat others at the same time.

      They are not animals, they are humans, and need even more kindness than ever in this world. Because they aren’t as developed, they don’t understand and process what happens in the same way we will (they might start blaming themselves for not being lovable enough, good enough, a troublemaker), hence needing compassionate responses to learn and grow into compassionate people. It puts them into a state of shame, for example, “I broke mum’s plate, I am clumsy and silly and should have been paying attention.” Such shaming message can get replayed into adulthood and become the identifying messages they have of themselves. Rather than, “Whoops, next time I will be more careful!” Read more into Brene Brown’s work about shame and guilt and how that shows up in our lives. Our choices and words really do impact the inner voice of our children, more than we realise.

      All those who say the world is broken due to a lack of smacking (when it’s actually quite high), well, I think it’s more the case of “broken” due to a lack of compassion and kindness. Actions breed actions. If we hit our partner every time they did something we didn’t like, how pissed off would we be? So why do tiny humans who DO NOT understand like a grown adult does, have to go through this painful and shaming childhood rite of passage?

      There are parents who don’t smack (myself included) and I don’t have a bunch of ratbags. I have three compassionate, confident and trusting kids from almost 4-14 who are excelling academically and emotionally. How is this even possible?! Defies logic, right? It just goes to show smacking is NOT necessary to be guaranteed good, respectful kids. All kids are good. Some are in a state of hurt, confusion or pain and show it the only way they know how. But I don’t think that’s a punishable offence.

      But if parents want to use smacking as punishment then it’s their own choice to make, it’s just not for my family. It’s not necessary, but just one of several choices.

      I think how we choose to parent mostly comes from our own childhood. How we were parented (not just smacking, but how parents talked and responded to us in those difficult moments) and the relationship we had with our parents is a huge model for us as parents and individuals.

  12. What a crock of Road Apples. We now have three generations that “Don’t believe in spanking”…we now have two generations that are MORE violent, kill there Parents and Other Students and are more Lazy then the ones before. Add to that have NO manners or respect for themselves OR others. OR Human Life Time out, Be Nice and other such tripe ONLY works on kids that are initially Good to begin with, have a conscience and want to please their parents,, to the rest,,it is a JOKE and a free pass out of Trouble. I don’t believe in BEATING a child, but a good swap on the rump NEVER hurt anyone other then their pride. This “Dr. Spock approach is what lead to the Violent world we now live in,,,Dr. Spock, kids hated him, He never talked to them, his own wife danced on his funeral Hearse and most of what he taught was Uninformed and only written to make money off of lazy, uninvolved “Parents” who thought they could just “go with the flow” and everything would be alright. .

  13. “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” Was written in the bible a couple thousand years before that poem.

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