It’s long been thought that smacking a naughty child will help keep them in line – but a new study suggests it might do more harm than good.

Researchers found children who were smacked as five-year-olds were slightly more likely to be aggressive and break rules later in primary school.

Despite mounting evidence on the harms tied to it, it is ‘still a very typical experience’ for children, the study’s lead author said.

‘Most kids experience spanking at least some point in time,’ Michael MacKenzie, from Columbia University in New York, said. ‘So there’s this disconnect.’

His team used data from a long-term study of children born in one of 20 U.S. cities between 1998 and 2000. The new report includes about 1,900 children.

Researchers surveyed parents when children were three and five years old about whether and how often they smacked their child.

Then they asked mothers about their child’s behaviour problems and gave the children a vocabulary test at age nine.

A total of 57 per cent of mothers and 40 per cent of fathers said they smacked children when they were three years old.

That fell slightly to 52 per cent of mothers and 33 per cent of fathers who smacked at the age of five.

Children were more misbehaved and were more aggressive when they had been smacked by their mothers as five-year-olds, whether regularly or occasionally.

Spanking by mothers at least twice a week was tied to a two-point increase on a 70-point scale of problem behaviour.

That was after the researchers took into account children’s behaviour at younger ages and other family characteristics.

There was no link between smacking by parents at age three and children’s later behaviour, however.

Chidlren also tended to score lower on vocabulary tests when they had been regularly spanked by their fathers at age five, MacKenzie and his colleagues write in Pediatrics.

The average vocabulary score for all nine-year-olds in the study was 93, slightly below the test-wide standard score of 100. Frequent spanking by fathers was linked to a four-point lower score. But the researchers couldn’t be sure that small difference wasn’t due to chance.

Gershoff said the finding is a bit hard to interpret. ‘I don’t think that spanking makes kids stupider,” she said.

It’s possible that parents who are spanking are not talking to their children as often, Gershoff said. Or kids who are spanked and act out could be more distracted in the classroom.

When it comes to disciplining children, she said there’s more evidence on what doesn’t work long-term than what does.

‘We know that spanking doesn’t work, we know that yelling doesn’t work,’ Gershoff said. ‘Time out is kind of a mixed bag. We know that reasoning does work.’

She told Reuters Health. ‘Spanking models aggression as a way of solving problems, that you can hit people and get what you want.

‘When (children) want another kid’s toy, the parents haven’t taught them how to use their words or how to negotiate.’

Professor MacKenzie said spanking continues to seem effective to parents in the short term, which makes it hard to change their minds about it.

source: dailymail UK