The Journal of Pediatrics recently published research focused on the impact of spanking children during the first decade of their lives. The headlines have typically summarized this work as substantiating that spanking children is associated with aggressive behavior and cognitive ability.
So, is the conclusion that spanking children causes them to behave poorly and not perform well in school? The answer is, "No!"
Statistically, the worse place to go when you are sick is to the hospital - because more people die there than any other place. A statistical relationship between and among factors does not mean that it is causal.
This particular study was conducted with 1500 families in twenty cities in the "Fragile Families and Child Well Being Study." A critical disclaimer buried in the research is that there is no "causal" relationship between the factors.
Whether or not you believe in spanking your children as a form of discipline, beware of research that may have a built in bias toward its conclusions. Also ask if the work can be "generalized". Does a study of "fragile families" in twenty cities apply to stable families in suburban and rural America?
While many of us remember the "ruler", "switch" or flyswatter…and its distinction from abuse…its ok to differ on how children should be disciplined. It is not ok to ignore their discipline.
Whether we approach consequences for children's behavior with corporal or conversational methods, they will likely be fine if they understand that we love them! And a footnote, it may be irrational to think that we can rationalize with little people who are not yet rational.