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Smacking Young Children Linked to Poor Behaviour

The newly released study, Spanking and Child Development Across the First Decade of Life published by the American Academy of Paediatrics, found that smacking children up to the age of 5 predicted negative outcomes for children by age 9. In particular, those negative outcomes are more "externalising behaviour" (this means outward expressions of problematic behaviour like aggression) and less "receptive vocabulary" (this means the words  that can be understood by a child but not necessarily expressed in speech or writing) .

Data was drawn from The Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study published by  Princeton and Columbia Universities, using information on 1,933 families in relation to smacking and child behaviour, and 1,532 families in relation to smacking and receptive vocabulary. This longitudinal research broke down smacking by mothers and fathers to determine if the effects were different. While the researchers report that the Fragile Families data included an extensive set of child and family controls, they acknowledge that the families studied were a fairly disadvantaged urban sample.

Mothers Smack More Than Fathers

While use of smacking decreased from age 3 to age 5, mothers smacked more than fathers at both ages. After controlling for a variety of child and family characteristics such as parental stress, child’s gender, and early temperament, the researchers concluded that maternal smacking of a child at age 5 (regardless of frequency) was a significant predictor of problematic behaviour at age 9.

Fathers Smacking Predicted Poorer Receptive Vocabulary in Children

Raising questions for future work is the relatively novel finding about a link between fathers smacking and a child's receptive vocabulary. Researchers concluded that children who had been smacked by their fathers at age 5 had poorer vocabulary at age 9 than children who were not smacked. Interestingly, previous studies have found that maternal smacking had a negative impact on a preschooler’s vocabulary.

The debate about whether or not smacking is an acceptable method of disciplining children continues, not only in Australia, but around the world. New Zealand, Sweden, South Sudan and 30 other countries now legally protect children from all forms of physical punishment. While prominent doctors in Australia say smacking should stop, the Australian government has not legislated against it.

Image from freedigitalphotos.net