Spanking alters a child's brain in the same way more severe abuse does 2 months ago

Spanking alters a child's brain in the same way more severe abuse does

I could never put a hand on my children to hurt them.

– I simply cannot fathom how anyone could see it reasonable to hit, spank, shake or in any way hurt a child in order to punish them or make them realise they have done something wrong.

And if there are still people out there who are of the opinion that a little slap to the hand or backside does a child no harm – here is now scientific proof that it actually very much does.

Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what other studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

In fact, it can end up actually altering their brains in the same way that more severe abuse does.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behaviour problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," explained Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in Harvard University's Department of Psychology.

McLaughlin, who was the senior researcher on the study which was published this month in the journal Child Development, explains further:

"In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

Advertisement

The researchers used an MRI machine to measure kids' brain activity as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. And what the researchers found, was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

"While we might not conceptualize corporal punishment to be a form of violence, in terms of how a child's brain responds, it's not all that different than abuse," McLaughlin explained.

"It's more a difference of degree than of type."

It seems to make sense when you consider that hitting a child on the bottom isn't fundamentally different from hitting them anywhere else on their body. Open or closed hand, a strike is a strike, and a strike is, by definition, violence.

Here is the thing – yes, of course, children need boundaries. And rules. And consequences when these are broken. But, like in most other areas of life, I firmly believe that fear and violence are not the answer.

People often mistake positive parenting for pushover parenting, but the two are very different.