To spank, Or not to spank?

Photo source:

Spanking, or corporal punishment as it is also called, can be a somewhat controversial topic in this field. I had a meeting with a parent this week who is very upset that an older family member is very-pro- spanking. The parent wanted me to talk to the family member and make her "less spanking" and "more ABA". Sounds easy, right? :-)

As a professional in this field it isn't unusual for clients to ask for your opinion or recommendations on services, therapies, methods, schools, etc. The best practice is to provide the family with solid evidence based knowledge. It is not advised to recommend something to a client you really don't know much about. So if a parent asks you "Should I spank or not?", what should you say??

What I typically do is explain to the client that research does support that spanking can have many negative effects that can be long term. I then advise the parent do their own research and reading, and make a decision as  a parent what they want to do.
Sometimes a family member who views therapy as being "too soft" on the child will make a statement to me about how all the child's Autism would just go fixed with one good spank/swat. If this happens to you take the opportunity to educate the family member. 

Remember: successful ABA intervention requires a team. The more members of the family you can get on your side the better.

Below is an example of how I would respond to a client or relative of a client who asks me "What's so bad about spanking?!":

"I do understand your opinion about spanking, as many people were spanked as children, and view it as a discipline tool. There is quite a bit of research on the topic of spanking and corporal punishment,  and I can recommend some books too if you are interested. I can tell you that in general, reinforcement will always be more effective than punishment. However, I do have a few questions for you--
 How effective is the spanking? Is the behavior decreasing as a result? As with any behavior intervention, if the target behavior does not decrease then the intervention isn't working. Are you having to spank your child daily, or constantly? If so, then that is not an effective intervention. Also, what are you doing to teach the child what to do instead? Punishment doesn't often teach brand new skills. Lastly, are you concerned about inadvertently teaching your child that hitting is okay? I have worked with children who get spanked, and will hit/swat at peers when angry or upset. I would suggest you think about all of these possible concerns, and if you need help creating a new behavioral intervention to try I would be glad to be of assistance."

Just remember that as a professional you want to give informed, evidence based recommendations. If you have limited knowledge of a topic, tell a client that before answering their question. If a topic is very sensitive or controversial to you, you must remove your own personal biases before giving advice to a client.

Also, I am careful to preface advice with "in my opinion" unless I am directly referencing research. Especially a topic like spanking, which can be a cultural land-mine issue. Avoid judgmental or "parent blaming" statements and instead start a respectful dialogue.

Recommended Reading:

Straus MA, Sugarman DB, Giles-Sims J: Spanking by parents and subsequent antisocial behavior of children. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 1997, 151:761-767.

Gershoff ET: Report on physical punishment in the United States: What research tells us about its effects on children. Columbus, OH: Center for Effective Discipline; 2008

Straus MA: Beating the devil out of them: Corporal punishment in American families and its effects on children. 2nd edition. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction; 2001.

Baumrind D, Larzelere RE, Cowan PA: Ordinary physical punishment: Is it harmful? Comment on Gershoff (2002). Psychological Bulletin 2002, 128:580-589.

No comments

Copyright T. Meadows 2011. All original content on this blog is protected by copyright. Powered by Blogger.
Back to Top