How To Get Children To Behave Without Hitting Them

Posted on September 27, 2014

Photo: flickr

There's plenty of evidence that spanking, paddling or hitting children doesn't improve their behavior in the long run and actually makes it worse.

But the science never trumps emotion, according to Alan Kazdin, head of the Yale Parenting Center and author of The Everyday Parenting Toolkit.

Why do parents use physical discipline?

There are three reasons, Kazdin says. "The brain is hard-wired to pick up negative things in the environment; this is just how humans and mammals are." So parents naturally pay more attention to a child's bad behavior, rather than to all the good things they may be doing the rest of the day.

Second, there is increasing evidence that watching or engaging in aggressive behavior excites the reward centers in the brain, giving an incentive for aggression.

"And the third context is the Bible," Kazdin says. "Some religions view hitting the child, use of the rod, not just as all right but obligatory. You're not living up to your responsibility if you're not hitting your child.

So how do you get those parents to stop the abuse?

When you're drowning, you can't teach someone how to swim, Kazdin says. "We don't reason with them, we don't moralize with them, we don't tell them about the science. That kind of talking doesn't influence behavior."

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Category(s):Child and/or Adolescent Issues, Parenting

Source material from NPR