Harsh discipline is very problematic. Scores of studies over the years have come up with similar findings. Very strong discipline (whether harsh verbal or any kind of physical discipline) has only one benefit; it is more likely to promote short-term compliance. However, when a child is subject to harsh discipline, he or she is more likely to suffer from many short and long-term negative consequences, including a lack of long-term compliance, higher rates of aggression, interference with moral development, and mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and acting out behaviors.

A new study looks at the question of whether parents of children who are aggressive (for whatever reason) are more likely to use harsh discipline. It turns out that aggressive children tend to stimulate stronger and harsher discipline from their mothers (fathers were not studied). And, the same short-term compliance and long-term stimulation of more aggression then ever was observed.

Lucy Daniels Center clinicians have repeatedly seen how parents with aggressive and otherwise difficult-to-discipline children are often at their wits end. They frequently resort to extreme discipline that may not feel right but seems the only option. The discipline, whether spanking, painful isolation, excessive consequences, or verbal shaming almost invariably backfires. Most often, parents come to feel that using harsh discipline was a big mistake, feeling badly themselves that they went to such extremes.

 We are heartened by the recommendations of this research, which we strongly endorse: “Identifying children who are aggressive at young ages and treating them early could prevent parents from using aggressive discipline in the first place, allowing children’s aggression to be kept in check without exacerbating the problem.” Amen.

We have discussed some of these issues at greater length; a a downloadable pdf version is available at http://lucydanielscenter.org/page/spanking-children. This article referenced is: Reciprocal Influences Between Maternal Discipline Techniques and Aggression in Children and Adolescents, Sheehan, M., and Watson, M., in Aggressive Behavior, Volume 34, 2008.]

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