Physically punishing children not effective, worsens their behaviour instead: UK study

No benefits to physical punishments.

Syahindah Ishak | July 05, 2021, 05:56 PM

A UK study found that physically punishing children is not effective in improving their behaviour.

Instead, it increases behavioural problems.

The study was conducted by University College London (UCL) and an international team of experts.

It analysed 20 years of research on the outcomes of different physical punishment, which included smacking, spanking or caning.

It also looked at 69 studies from around the world.

Approximately 250 million children across the world are regularly subjected to physical punishment by their caregivers, the study found.

Does not reduce behavioural problems

According to the study, there is no evidence that physical punishment reduces behavioural problems or promotes positive outcomes.

The study's lead author Anja Heilmann said that physical punishment is "ineffective and harmful", and has no benefits for children and their families.

Among children who were physically punished, the study found no improvements in their attention, cognitive abilities, relationships with others, reactivity to stress, prosocial behaviour or social competence.

Causes increased behavioural problems

Instead, the study found a link between physical punishment and increased behavioural problems.

Heilmann said that physical punishment causes behavioural problems, such as aggression and antisocial behaviour.

"Physical punishment consistently predicts increases in these types of behavioural difficulties," she added.

She also noted that children who are the recipients of physical punishment are at an increased risk of being subjected to more severe levels of violence.

Senior author Elizabeth Gershoff said:

"Parents use physical punishment with their children because they think doing so will lead to better behaviour. But our research found clear and compelling evidence that physical punishment does not improve children’s behaviour and instead makes it worse."

According to the study, the harmful outcomes associated with physical punishments occurred regardless of the child's sex, ethnicity, or the overall parenting styles of their caregivers.

Calling for countries to ban physical punishment

Only 62 sovereign countries in the world have prohibited physical punishment of children.

The experts behind the study are calling for all countries to end the physical punishment of children in all settings, including at home.

Co-author of the study Jillian van Turnhout said:

"This review has documented compelling evidence that hitting children doesn't work, and in many cases, it is harmful. A home should be a safe place for children, yet in many countries, the law can make it one of the most unsafe places for them.

Countries need to do all they can to ensure that all children have equal protection from all forms of harm, including physical punishment.”

Top photo via Getty Images.