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Spanked Kids are More Aggressive

by Barbara Minton
See all TBYIL articles by Barbara Minton

(The Best Years in Life) Whether it's done out of frustration, anger or belief that spare the rod and spoil the child is the best way to parent, spanking kids has negative outcomes. Scientists at Tulane University have documented this fact in a study that found kids who are spanked are more likely to be aggressive than kids who are not spanked.

"Toddlers that are spanked more frequently at age 3 are at increased risk for being more aggressive at age 5", said Catherine Taylor, assistant professor of Community Health Sciences at Tulane and lead author of the study. "We found this to be true even after taking into account associations such as the parent's level of stress, depression, use of drugs or alcohol, and the presence of other aggression within the family." Each of these factors may contribute to children's aggressive behavior. However, the positive connection between spanking and aggression remained strong, even after these factors were considered.

Researchers asked nearly 2,500 mothers how often they had spanked their 3 year old child in the past month. They also asked questions about the child's level of aggression, demographic features and eight identified maternal parenting risk factors. Almost half (45.6 percent) of the mothers reported no spanking in the previous month, while 27.9 percent reported spanking one or two times, and 26.5 percent reported spanking more than twice.

Mothers with a higher number of parenting risk factors were more likely to spank frequently. However, even accounting for these potential confounding factors, frequent spanking at age 3 increased the odds of high levels of aggression at age 5.

Such behaviors as arguing or screaming, cruelty, bullying or meanness to others, destroying things, fighting, and frequently threatening others were considered to be examples of aggressive behaviors.

The odds of a child being more aggressive at age 5 if he had been spanked more than twice in the month before the study began increased by a whopping 50% according to Taylor.


The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not endorse spanking for any reason, citing its lack of effectiveness as a tactic for behavioral change. The AAP supports strategies aimed at behavior shaping by giving the child a period of reflection and reinforcing the notion that actions have consequences. Time-outs and revoking of privileges are seen as effective as long as they are administered predictable and consistently, and the child is not allowed to talk his way out of them.

According to the AAP, spanking may initially stop a child from misbehaving, but it also makes the situation more difficult as the child gets older and has not learned to reflect on and analyze his behavior, and be self-disciplining.

Taylor concurs with the AAP. "There are ways to discipline children effectively that do not involve hitting them and that can actually lower their risk for being more aggressive." 

The good news for Taylor is that parents don't have to rely on spanking to get the results they want. "If they avoid spanking but instead use effective, non-physical types of discipline, their child has a better chance of being healthier, and having better behavior later."

This research supports earlier findings on the pitfalls of corporal punishment, including a study at Duke University that revealed infants who were spanked at 12 months of age scored lower on cognitive measures at age 3.

Child psychologists have long known that spanked children tend to be more defiant, demanding, and needful of attention and immediate gratification. They appear to have never learned to reflect on the world, themselves, or their actions, and they are more likely to model the behavior of their parents and display frustration, anger, and the belief that hitting others is the best way to solve problems. Because of their histories, these children do not respond well at first to time-out strategies because reflection is foreign to them. However enforcing a period of isolation and quiet over time, combined with a calm explanation of why this is occurring, can often achieve good results.

See also:

Teaching Children Gardening Boosts Their Development and Health

How to Build Self Confidence in Your Children

Unwarranted Off-label Psych Drug Prescriptions are Dooming Millions of Children's Lives

Kids Who Get Dirty Have Better Immune Systems

The Mixed Blessing of Children (humor)

For more information:

About the author:

Barbara is a school psychologist and the author of Dividend Capture, a book on personal finance. She is a breast cancer survivor using bioidentical hormone therapy, and a passionate advocate of natural health with hundreds of articles on many aspects of health and wellness. She is the editor and publisher of AlignLife's Health Secrets Newsletter.

See other articles by the Barbara Minton here:

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