Many parents and caregivers believe that spanking or hitting a child is an effective way to teach discipline and respect. In fact, most of us as parents probably were spanked when we were children ourselves. Years of research tell a very different story — namely, that hitting hurts — in more ways than you might think.

Physical discipline can lead to many unwanted outcomes for our children, including increased aggression, disobedience and antisocial behavior that can lead to even more serious problems later in life. Because of these findings, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry have recommended that parents avoid spanking and use other forms of non-physical discipline for children.

Facts about hitting

Hitting or spanking teaches children to use violence to solve problems.

Violent punishment leads to children doing poorly in school and lacking the ability to concentrate.

Physical punishment does not improve behavior for the long-term. It leads to more disobedience and aggression in children.

Children that experience physical punishment are more likely to become involved in delinquency and criminal behavior.

Children that experience violence view the world as dangerous and scary.

Experiencing violence as children leads to physical and mental health problems as adults.

Children that have been physically punished may have difficulty forming healthy attachments and may not be able to trust other people.

Parents who use physical punishment with their children are at nine times greater risk of physically abusing their children.

Effective discipline

There are many ways to address children’s behaviors without the use of physical punishment. Different methods work for children of different ages and developmental levels, such as:

Guide and teach instead of punish.

Reward positive behaviors.

Be realistic — expect the child to act like a child.

Be prepared — anticipate and plan for situations and the child’s behavior.

Give the child clear expectations.

Build structure and routine in the child’s day.

Be consistent and follow through with discipline.

Non-violent discipline techniques:

Distraction (infants and toddlers) — Draw the child’s attention away from what they are doing toward something different while making a simple comment about the unwanted behavior, such as, “No touching that.”

Timout (children age 3 and older) — Timeout should last for one minute per year of the child’s age after the child calms down. Adults should stay calm and not yell. Praise the child for calming down.

Sticke charts (young school-age children) — Create a chart or calendar with the help of your child to reinforce good habits. The child will receive a sticker for each habit or behavior you are trying to reinforce.

House rules (school-age and teenage children) — Remember that rules don’t work if the child isn’t involved in setting them up or if adults do not follow through on the consequences for breaking the rules.

Create a No Hit Zone — Make your home a safe, healthy and non-violent environment for everyone.

This information was provided by UW Health American Family Children’s Hospital ( and was brought to you by the Stop Child Abuse and Neglect (SCAN) Program of Lutheran Social Services.

Questions about how to get more involved? Call the SCAN office at 262-619-1633. You can also mail charitable contributions to the SCAN at 2000 Domanik Drive, Racine, WI 53404.

SCAN is funded by the United Way of Racine County, the United Way of Kenosha County, Potawatomi Bingo Casino Heart of Canal Street, and The Paul Newman Foundation, as well as through private donations from local churches, schools, individuals and businesses.


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