Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Hugs, Not Hits: Warmth and Spanking as Predictors of Child Social Competence

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Hugs, Not Hits: Warmth and Spanking as Predictors of Child Social Competence

Article excerpt

Decades of research have found links between parents' use of spanking, or "the use of physical force with the intention of causing a child to experience pain, but not injury, for the purpose of correcting or controlling a child's behavior" (Donnelly & Straus, 2005, p. 3), and an increased likelihood of negative outcomes for children (Ferguson, 2013; Gershoff, 2002). The child outcomes most often linked with spanking are aggression and antisocial behavior, and several large, longitudinal studies have now linked early spanking with increases in children's aggression or antisocial behavior over time, including from age 1 to age 2 in the Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project (Berlin et al., 2009); from age 1 to ages 3, 5, and 9 in several studies using the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS; Gromoske & Maguire-Jack, 2012; Lee, Altschul, & Gershoff, 2013, 2015; MacKenzie, Nicklas, Waldfogel, & Brooks-Gunn, 2013; Maguire-Jack, Gromoske, & Berger, 2012); from kindergarten to third grade in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Cohort 1998-1999 (ECLS-K; Gershoff, Lansford, Sexton, Davis-Kean, & Sameroff, 2012); and from kindergarten to middle school in the Child Development Project and the Pitt Mother-Child Project (Lansford et al., 2011). Spanking is thought to increase antisocial behavior because it models aggression (Bandura, 1973), interferes with internal attributions for appropriate behavior, and does not teach children why their behavior was wrong or what alternative behaviors are appropriate (Gershoff, 2013). The consistency of findings has led professional organizations, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (1998) and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (2012), to recommend that parents avoid spanking their children in favor of other forms of discipline.

Despite the negative child outcomes associated with spanking, some academics have defended spanking as an effective means of discipline (Baumrind, Larzelere, & Cowan, 2002; Larzelere & Kuhn, 2005), and a significant proportion of U.S. parents regularly use spanking to discipline children. One FFCWS study showed that about one third of children are spanked as infants (Maguire-Jack et al., 2012), similar to the rate of spanking of 1-year-olds observed in a nationally representative sample of parents (Straus & Stewart, 1999). Use of spanking increases as children age. One study of nearly 3,000 mothers in North Carolina showed that 70% of mothers self-reported that they had spanked their 2-year-old children (Zolotor, Robinson, Runyan, Barr, & Murphy, 2011). In another FFCWS study that examined spanking by mothers and fathers, 44% of 3-year-olds had been spanked two times or more in the past month (Lee, Taylor, Altschul, & Rice, 2013). Spanking peaks at about age 3 (Holden, Coleman, & Schmidt, 1995), and by age 10 more than 80% of children have been spanked at least once by a parent (Straus & Stewart, 1999; Vittrup & Holden, 2010).

Why do parents persist in spanking when the advice of both researchers and practitioners converges on the conclusion that it is potentially harmful to children? One key reason is that parents believe spanking is an effective means of promoting better behavior in their children. In one large study, 25% of respondents endorsed the belief that spanking improved child behavior, and 22% indicated that other forms of discipline were not as effective as spanking (Taylor, Al-Hiyari, Lee, Priebe, & Guerrero, 2015). Parents' agreement with social norms that endorse the use of spanking is another strong predictor of spanking behavior (Taylor, Hamvas, Rice, Newman, & DeJong, 2011) and, as a result, social norms and beliefs that spanking is effective often trump science. In particular, parents who spank their children believe it is effective in promoting desirable child behavior, such as social competence (Vittrup & Holden, 2010). …

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