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Corporal Punishment and How it Affects Child Development

More than half of US parents use corporal punishment to disciplinetheir children (Maguire-Jack et al., 2012). Corporal punishmentrefers to any form of punishment that involves inflicting temporarypain on the child, for instance slapping or spanking (Maguire-Jack etal., 2012). Varied research has been conducted to determine howcorporal punishment affects child development. Most studies supportits detrimental effect on child development. Although corporalpunishment results in momentary child conformity, its effects on thedevelopment of the child are harmful in the long run.

Literature Review

Research shows that corporal punishment is largely associated withnegative child development outcomes, which include “low self-worth,child aggression, antisocial behavior, lower intellectual achievementand poorer quality of parent-child relationships” (Smith, 2006).

Children that are exposed to corporal punishment seem to develop lowself-worth. According to Maguire-Jack et al (2012), attachment theorydemonstrates that when parents spank their children, specificallywhen the child is crying and seeks comfort, the punishment results inthe internal development of the perception that the parent rejectsthe child. As a result, the child feels unworthy of receivingaffection or comfort from their parents. Continuing with corporalpunishment eventually pushes the child to stress, despair andeventually development of low self-worth. Research shows that stressaffects the brain processes of children (Maguire-Jack et al., 2012).Continuously punishing a child, instead of loving and comfortinginterferes with cognitive development, causing the child to feelunworthy.

In a meta-analysis to review whether corporal punishment results inaggressive behavior in children, Gershoff (2002) found a positivecorrelation. When children are punished by physically hitting orspanking they are likely to practice the same behavior on peers,adults and siblings (Smith, 2006). As children develop, theyinternalize their social relation experiences. Hence, corporalpunishment might legitimize aggressiveness among children. It isironic that during punishment, parents aim at preventing a certainbehavior, yet they may be strengthening the bad behavior (Smith,2006). This is because physical punishment makes it possible forchildren to develop aggressive conduct via modeling. According tosocial learning theory, when parents endeavor to change the behaviorof their children via physical punishment, the children have a higherlikelihood of doing the same when aiming at influencing otherindividual’s actions (Smith, 2006).

According to Arnett (2012), numerous studies conducted in Americaand Europe on corporal punishment on children, find a positivecorrelation amid the act and a diversity of antisocial conducts inchildren. The antisocial conducts involve lying and increaseddisobedience. Children are more likely to lie to their parentsbecause they are afraid of being hit or spanked. Arnett (2012)further notes that corporal punishment during early childhoodenhances the compliance of the child for a short period yet resultsin more harm eventually. Genetic aspects might also influence theextreme to which antisocial conduct affects child development.Boutwell et al (2011:566) “Exposure to risky environments, whencoupled with a genetic vulnerability, may increase the likelihoodthat a child will develop conduct problems and antisocial behavior.”A history of corporal punishment for a child with geneticvulnerability interferes with the child’s thought processdevelopment causing them to internalize feelings, which are acted outvia antisocial conduct (Boutwell et al., 2011).

Corporal punishment contributes to lower intellectual achievementduring a child’s development. Researchers note that corporalpunishment causes changes to the brain of a child by reducing thelevel of gray matter in the brain. Kovac (2014) notes, “researchersfound children who were regularly spanked had less gray matter incertain areas of the prefrontal cortex”. The amount of gray matterin a child’s brain affects their intellectual performance. A lowgray matter leads to low performance in IQ tests as compared tochildren with a more gray matter that scores higher. Gray matter isvery important in enhancing the capability of the brain toself-control (Kovac, 2014). When a child has more gray matter, theywill be in a better position to assess rewards as well asconsequences prior to engaging in any behavior. However, corporalpunishment reduces this level of self-control in children as theylearn to get controlled by spanking or slapping. Hence, when theparents or other caregivers are not present, children end up engagingin more misconduct.

Sociocultural view on child development supposes that the cognitivegrowth of children is a result of social interactions. Socialinteractions that include getting attached to caregivers, makingfriends, mutual learning amid peers and child-teacher relationshiphave a direct or indirect impact on a child’s learning in additionto enthusiasm to learn (Smith, 2006). During these socialinteractions, the type of punishment used may result in more or lesscognitive stimulation. For instance, employing verbal techniques ofdisciplining that includes explaining why the child is being punishedstimulates more cognitive understanding on why the child should notengage in misconduct again. On the contrary, in corporal punishment,parents rarely explain the reason for the punishment (Arnett, 2012).As a result, children lack cognitive understanding on why they werepunished, which reduces their cognitive development. Instead childrendevelop anxiety over the possibility of being physically punished,which reduces their exploration in turn limiting their cognitiveskills (Smith, 2006).

Quality relationships between parents and their children are crucialin the development of conscience. Use of physical punishmentadversely affects the relationships. When children are born, theynaturally attach to their parents as caregivers (Arnett, 2012). Apositive attachment is made possible through comforting and lovingparent-child relationships. Attachment security is a crucial elementin conscience development in children (Liable &amp Thompson, 2000).When the child relates well with the parents, they are able todevelop a proper understanding of what is right and wrong. Contrary,physical punishment makes it impossible for children to formattachments with their parents. When parents are depressed, they arelikely to negatively relate with their children, especially infants(Arnett, 2012). Corporal punishment during early child growth causesthe child to develop a fear towards the parent thus, a poorattachment security develops. This in turn affects the child’sgrowth.

Problem Identification

Based on the literature review, the main problem is that corporalpunishment negatively affects child development, specifically inyoung children. It impairs self-worth as the child grows. It damagesthe development of friendships or social skills as physicallypunished children develop antisocial and aggressive behavior. Itinterferes with intellectual growth, which explains why physicallypunished children perform poorly academically. The children havebehavior problems in class that make it hard to concentrate. Also,parents that use corporal punishment make it impossible for childrento develop attachment security with them. Thus, children have a poorconscience development and are incapable of differentiating goodbehavior from bad.

Combating the Problem

Many parents or caregivers use corporal punishment because they lackknowledge on how it affects their child development. To combat theproblem, a possible solution is organizing training programs forparents on how to deal with child misbehavior. Parenting can be anoverwhelming experience for most parents. There are no right or wronganswers to parenting. However, parents need to be informed on theright approaches to enhance positive child development. The trainingprograms target parents of children from infancy to five years. Atthis stage of the child’s development, they are highly influencedby their parents’ behavior. Also, the children have minimalunderstanding of right and wrong, which enhances the possibility ofparents using corporal punishment to temporarily stop bad behavior.

Through training, the parents are informed on why they should notphysically punish their children. They are also introduced toalternative punishment methods such as time-outs and informed on theneed to inductively involve the child in the punishment process. Forinstance, before time-out, the parent should explain to the childthat because they did something wrong, they will have to sitsomewhere for some time. Once, the time is over, the parent shouldembrace the child and inform them that it is inappropriate to behavein such a manner, and repeating the same behavior will result in moretime-out.

Another way is to encourage more parent-child relationships. Childrendevelop an understanding of what is right or wrong from their primarycaregivers. When the child has a positive relationship with thecaregiver, it becomes possible for parents to clearly explain whatbehavior they expect and what they do not from the child. In order toimprove the relationship, parents are encouraged to talk more withtheir children, play together and involve children in moreactivities. This strengthens the relationship, and parents are in abetter position of instilling good behavior in children, whichreduces the need for corporal punishment.

The actions suggested in combating the problem are highly effective.Training programs to parents makes it possible to inform onappropriate ways of punishing children. Parents gain knowledge on whythey should not physically punish because it negatively affects childdevelopment. Training is also an important strategy in demonstratinghow to use alternative approaches to corporal punishment. Forinstance, with the use of audio-visual aids, training programs showhow to implement time-out and it effectiveness. This in turn,encourages parents to practice the same. Encouraging parent-childrelationship aims at enhancing communication between the parents andtheir children. More communication from the parent reinforces theneed to behave in a specific way, which ensures that the child isaware of what behavior is expected and that, which is not.

It is difficult to get reliable statistics concerning corporalpunishment on children. This is because most of the cases end upunreported, for example, spanking a child that is not yet talkingobviously means that the child is incapable of reporting theincident. Unless when observed by another individual, which is highlyunlikely, as most physical punishment happens in the home environmentwhen parents are alone with the child. Thus, more education isrequired within the home environments, to ensure parents andcaregivers fully understand why they should stop corporal punishment.


Arnett, J. (2012). Human Development: A cultural approach.Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson.

Boutwell, B. B., Franklin, C. A., Barnes, J. C &amp Beaver, K. M.(2011). Physical punishment and childhood aggression: The role ofgender and gene-environment interplay. Aggressive Behavior,37, 559-568.

Gershoff, E. T. (2002). Corporal punishment by parents and associatedchild behaviors and experiences: A meta-analytic and theoreticalreview. Psychological Bulletin, 128(4), 539- 579.

Kovac, S. (2014). Spanking the gray matter out of our kids. CNN.Retrieved from:

Liable, D. J &amp Thompson, R. A. (2000). Mother-child discourse,attachment security, shared positive. Child Development,71(5), 1424-1440.

Maguire-Jack, K., Gromoske, A. N &amp Berger, L. M. (2012). Spankingand child development during the first 5 years of life. ChildDevelopment, 83(6), 1960-1977.

Smith, A. B. (2006). The state of research on the effects of physicalpunishment. Social Policy Journal of New Zealand, 27,114-127.

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