There are various ways one can discipline a child and physical or corporal punishment is one of the tactics frequently employed by parents as disciplinary action. Physical punishment refers to the act of hitting a child to control undesired behavior. Spanking is one such example of physical punishment that 75% parents use in USA to discipline their wards. Spanking is an act of hitting a child's buttock openhandedly. Spanking also includes striking a child with a stick or spoon, slapping on the face and smacking a child's hand. In psychology the term reinforcement theory is often used. Reinforcement theory refers to the process of reinforcing discipline through a combination of rewards and punishments. According to this theory punishment is an aversive technique employed to discourage an inappropriate behavior and spanking is the most common type of physical punishment used to teach a child that a negative behavior deserves punishment. Though there are debates galore on spanking not being a proper technique to discipline a child, some studies have shown that spanking is good when done with good intent. Marjorie Gunnoe, a professor of psychology found in his study that "children spanked up to the age of 6 were likely as teenagers to perform better at school and were more likely to carry out volunteer work and to want to go to college than their peers who had never been physically disciplined” (Duke, 2010). However, spanking should be used as a last-ditch effort by parents when all other measures like discussion, scolding or warning fail to discipline a child. Spanking delivered with a good intent of inculcating discipline in children can bring out a positive result if it is used as a last resort when all other disciplinary actions fail but spanking should never be meted out in a violent manner on the spur of the moment when parents are unable to control their emotions of anger and frustration.
Spanking or physical punishment when used with positive intent is likely to bring positive outcome, but as with everything else whether or not a positive message would be sent across to a child depends on the way a physical punishment is meted out. A parent should never hit a child when he is angry or take his frustration out on the child. It has been seen in many children abuse cases that parents spank their children with belt, broomstick or whatever they get handy on the spur of the moment, injuring the children or leaving bruises on their skins. Lashing children with things that bruise them is akin to an exercise of power and authority even if the punishment is given in the name of discipline because though the motive behind spanking may be disciplinary, the children spanked in a violent manner would have the violence part and the fear and hatred associated with it imprinted in their minds rather than the disciplinary message. Spanking delivered with the intent of showing power or authority and spanking delivered with the intent of inculcating discipline beget different results. When a parent who normally doesn't hit a child and is very caring hits the child for an inappropriate action would definitely make the child realize that he might have done something wrong to deserve punishment. On the other hand, parents who spank their children for nothing but to show authority and take their frustration out would make the child rebellious and more violent.
There are many psychologists and pediatricians who believe spanking promotes violence and may harm a child psychologically by instilling fear and inciting aggressive behavior. Though physical punishment is accepted in USA as an acceptable form of punishment, there are psychologists who believe that corporal punishment violates one's human right and constant slapping, pushing, kicking, hitting and shoving could lead to anxiety, mood disorders and personality problem. Many psychologists believe that physical punishment may work temporarily in stopping an inappropriate behavior because children are scared of being spanked but in the long run physical punishment only makes children more aggressive and violent in nature. A study conducted on both parents and children came up with the finding that children who frequently receive physical punishment are either aggressive in nature or suffer from lack of confidence and self-respect (Smith, 2012). In fact, parents who grew up being physically punished for inappropriate actions spank their own children too believing that spanking is the ideal form of disciplinary measure.
Since spanking, if frequently meted out, could lead to a form of abuse, it should be used as a last resort when all other techniques of disciplining a child fail. Parents should know where to draw the line between abuse and punishment. There are many parents who in the name of discipline hit their children every now and then for trivial matters. Hitting children for trivial things is an absolutely wrong action because it makes children turn rebellious and damages their self-respect. When a child behaves in an inappropriate manner, parents should first try to discuss with the child the pros and cons of his or her inappropriate actions explaining the reasons for such behavior to be inappropriate. If the child continues to behave in the same unruly manner as before turning a deaf ear to all the words of wisdom of parents, a warning or scolding could be given but if that fails too, spanking could be meted out as punishment to inculcate discipline in the children. Dr. David Safir who is a pediatrician based in California revealed how he received spanking as a child and spanked his own children when needed, believing that the occasional use of physical punishment like spanking is an effective tool for parents to discipline their wards (Zeidler, 2012).
In conclusion, physical punishment refers to the act of hitting a child to restrain undesired behavior. Spanking is an act of physical punishment widely accepted in USA for inculcating discipline in children. Spanking could deliver a positive outcome if it is used as a last resort when all other disciplinary measures of discussion, scolding and warning fail but spanking should never cross the borderline of violence when children, instead of learning the desired lessons, have the violence of the spanking imprinted in their minds. Physical punishment should never be used on children to show authority or take frustration out; rather it should be aimed at making the child realize that his misdemeanor is culpable. Since frequent physical punishment or spanking over trivial matters could deeply scar children psychologically, spanking should only be meted out when children continue behaving in an unruly manner despite repeated warnings, scolding and lectures given by parents in discouragement of the inappropriate actions.
Duke, Selwyn (2010). New Study Finds Spanking Is Good for Kids, New American. Retrieved on 15th October 2013 from <http://www.thenewamerican.com/culture/family/item/548-new-study-finds-spanking-is-good-for-kids>
Zeidler, Sari (2012). To Spank or Not to Spank, Where Do You Draw the Line?. CNN Health. Retrieved on 15th October 2013 from <http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/07/health/spanking-mental-illness-reaction/index.html>
Smith, Brendan L. (2012). The Case Against Spanking. American Psychological Association. Retrieved on 15th October 2013 from <http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/04/spanking.aspx>