Hugs, not hits: Affection better than spanking in encouraging good behavior

May 2, 2016
Jared Wadley

A mother hugs her son. (stock image)ANN ARBOR—Children who are spanked may become aggressive—not compassionate or caring, which is often the case when mothers use affection or guidance to correct a misbehavior, a new study found.

Spanking sends the message to children that aggression is the means to solve intrapersonal conflict, say researchers from the University of Michigan, University of Denver and University of Texas.

The researchers examined a core belief held by many parents who use spanking—the belief that spanking is an effective strategy to promote children’s positive behavior or, at a minimum, to reduce misbehavior.

Few studies have examined whether spanking has any effects on child positive behavior—as many parents assume it does. The study used information from nearly 3,300 families with young children tested at newborn, one year, three years and five years of age.

The researchers found that maternal warmth, such as praising or positive reinforcement to the child, was associated with higher rates of child prosocial behavior. They described children’s prosocial outcomes as ranging from feeling compassion for others to saying “please” and “thank you,” as social competence.

In contrast, maternal spanking led to increased child aggression only—and not increased prosocial behavior.

“Warmth may be a more effective way to promote children’s social competence than spanking,” said Shawna Lee, U-M associate professor of social work.

If parents use both warmth and spanking, the benefits of warmth with regards to children’s social competence may be undermined by the increased child aggression associated with spanking, said lead author Inna Altschul, associate professor at the University of Denver.

Elizabeth Gershoff, associate professor at the University of Texas, also co-authored the study.

Their findings appear in the current issue of Journal of Marriage and Family.


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