When the Spanking Just Isn’t Working

spank2n-1-webSubmitted by: Lauren Green

Not only do I work with children with Autism in a clinical setting, but I also teach a group of neurotypical children on the weekends. One of the most common complaints I hear from parents is “I have tried everything! Yelling and spankings just aren’t working!” While spanking some children may work, more often than not, it is only a temporary solution that usually only brings crying and more frustration and doesn’t usually change the behavior it was directed towards in the first place.

Why are spankings ineffective?

The first thing to know about changing behavior is that in order for something to actually be “punishment”, it must actually decrease the behavior in the future. If your child continues to do the behavior you spanked them for week after week or month after month, chances are, spankings are not punishment.

The next thing to know is that reinforcement is more effective in changing behavior than punishment is.  Parker-Pope (2013) said that it’s surprising that the most effective discipline typically doesn’t involve any punishment at all, but instead focuses on positive reinforcement.

To positively reinforce your child, you would give them things for doing the behaviors you DO want from them, instead of focusing on what they are doing wrong. For example: if the desired behavior is your child cleaning up their toys, you would tell them how they are doing a great job cleaning (instead of focusing on how much of a mess they made), and give them some sort of reinforcer (candy, praise, etc.) after they clean their toys.

Punishment may be necessary in certain situations, but it should always be used along with reinforcement. Try focusing on what things your children are doing correctly, model the appropriate behaviors for them, and reinforce them as they are doing what you want from them.

Remember that if you need to use punishment that it must be something that decreases the behavior in the future. If your chosen punishment, specifically spanking, isn’t working then you should look at using a different form of punishment (time-out, additional tasks before reinforcement, etc.)

Parker-Pope, T. (2013). Positive reinforcement is more effective than punishment.