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Many parents spank their children to put an immediate stop to bad behavior (e.g., shoving another child, reaching for a hot stove, etc.).
Being on the receiving end, children may learn to associate violence with power or getting one’s own way.
Emerging evidence suggests that non-cognitive skills may also be affected.
In an experimental study, Talwar, Carlson, and Lee (2011) tested whether attendance in a punitive versus non-punitive school environment had any effect on West African children’s executive functioning (EF) skills.[iii] They measured children’s abilities using three EF tasks: delay of gratification; gift delay; and dimensional change card sort.
Indeed, much of the aggressive behavior attributed to children who were spanked differentially tends to correspond to interactions where violence is used to exert power over another person—bullying, partner abuse, and so on.
Children whose parents hit them regularly may also develop more distant parent-child relationships later on.
But we should be very careful about drawing any causal conclusions here, even when there are robust associations.
It is very likely that there will be other factors associated with both spanking and child outcomes.
At most, there is a one point gap between mothers who did not report hitting their children in the past week and those who reported hitting them at least five times, but this result is swamped by the corresponding standard deviations. Taken together, these results suggest that spanking is not a good predictor of parenting quality.
That is, spanking is not systematically associated with other “negative” parenting behaviors.[v] There are some important caveats, however.
So: are parents who spank their children different on other dimensions of parenting?