Smacking makes children's behaviour worse, study shows

·2 min read

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Smacking children is ineffective as a punishment and can actually make their behaviour more problematic, according to a landmark new review.

The review, conducted by UCL and incorporating twenty years of research on the topic, found that that smacking and other physical punishments not only lead to no improvement in behaviour, but can also often be linked to other future problems such as aggression and antisocial behaviour.

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UCL's Dr Anja Heilmann, the study's lead author, said, “Physical punishment is ineffective and harmful, and has no benefits for children and their families. This could not be clearer from the evidence we present." 

Smacking children can trigger behavioural problems, a new study has shown (Getty Images)
Smacking children can trigger behavioural problems, a new study has shown (Getty Images)

"Even more worrying are findings that children who are the recipients of physical punishment are at increased risk of being subjected to more severe levels of violence.”

The review published in The Lancet, looked at 69 global studies that followed children over time and analysed data on physical punishment and a range of different outcomes.

It revealed that the link between physical punishment and increased behaviour problems is causal, and occurs irrespective of the child’s sex, ethnicity or any other other factors such as their guardians' overall parenting style. 

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Nevertheless, nearly two thirds of children aged between of two and four across the world are regularly subjected to smacking or other physical punishments by their parents and other caregivers. That's approximately 250 million children. 

Smacking your own child isn't illegal in England or Northern Ireland, so long as the force can be considered “reasonable punishment”, though Scotland has already banned smacking outright and Wales is set to do the same by 2022. 

Many people think smacking should be banned in the whole of the UK (Getty Images)
Many people think smacking should be banned in the whole of the UK (Getty Images)

Jillian van Turnhout is a co-author of the paper and a former Senator in parliament in Ireland, where smacking is outlawed. 

“As a former parliamentarian who championed the change in the law in Ireland, I know the importance of ensuring an evidence base for policy and legislation," she said. 

“This review has documented compelling evidence that hitting children doesn't work, and in many cases, it is harmful. 

"A home should be a safe place for children, yet in many countries, the law can make it one of the most unsafe places for them. Countries need to do all they can to ensure that all children have equal protection from all forms of harm, including physical punishment.”

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