Corporal Punishment

Topic Overview

Corporal punishment is the intentional use of physical force to cause bodily pain or discomfort as a penalty for unacceptable behavior. Corporal punishment includes any action that produces discomfort, such as:

  • Spanking, hitting, slapping, pinching, ear pulling, jabbing, shoving, or choking.
  • Forcing a child to assume a position that becomes painful over time.
  • Confining a child in an uncomfortable space.
  • Denying bathroom privileges.
  • Forcing a child to eat a noxious substance, such as soap or dog food.
  • Withholding water and food.

Corporal punishment is not an effective method of managing behavior. It does not teach a child how to act properly. At best, corporal punishment has only a temporary effect on behavior. And it may even make it worse. Not only does it reinforce some bad behavior, but also it teaches a child that physical force is the way to resolve conflict.

Corporal punishment can also have emotional and psychological effects, both short- and long-term, such as:

  • Impairing a child's trust and confidence.
  • Causing embarrassment, humiliation, a sense of worthlessness, anger, resentment, and confusion.
  • Causing children to have trouble forming close relationships, especially intimate relationships, with others later in life.

Effective alternatives to corporal punishment include distraction, time-outs, alternate activities, discussion of values, verbal reprimands, and natural and logical consequences.

Research has shown that positive reinforcement is more effective than corporal punishment. Catch your child doing something right and praise him or her. Don't wait until your child has done something wrong to notice his or her behavior.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical Reviewer Louis Pellegrino, MD - Developmental Pediatrics
Last Revised April 6, 2012

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