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Childhood Trauma : Adverse Effects Of Physical Punishment.

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effects of physical punishment on children

Whilst physical punishment, such as smacking, may produce immediate compliance by the child with a parent’s wishes in some situations, there is now a very large body of evidence to suggest that physical (or corporal) punishment of children can have many, and long-lasting, negative effects upon various facets of a child’s development including his/her social development, cognitive development and moral development.

Before we look at how these areas of a child’s development may be harmed by the parental use of physical punishment, let’s first briefly look at the two main types of discipline a parent may employ in an attempt to steer the child’s behaviour in a manner s/he (i.e. the parent) deems to be correct. These are :

1) Positive discipline

2) Negative discipline

I define these two terms below:

POSITIVE DISCIPLINE: Rewarding the child for being good or for stopping being ‘bad’. For example, by praising him/her.

NEGATIVE DISCIPLINE: Punishing the child for being ‘bad’. For example, by smacking.


Extensive research has been conducted on the effects of physically punishing children and I summarize the main findings below.

Effects of physically punishing children may include:

– making the child more hostile, aggressive and violent ( in part by modelling their own behaviour on the bad  example their parents set (by using physical punishment) and in part from inferring from their parents’ behaviour that violence is ‘acceptable’. Further, they may build up feelings of rage towards their parents which they direct outwards onto others due to a psychological process known as ‘externalization‘).

– increasing the child’s risk of becoming involved in anti-social behaviour/crime

– lowering the child’s academic performance

– increasing the child’s risk of becoming disruptive at school

– increasing the child’s risk of bullying others at school (due, for example, to displacing his/her anger towards his/her parents onto vulnerable others).

– worsening the child’s behaviour at home and creating a difficult and problematic relationship between the child and parent, which, in turn, is liable to lead the child to develop problems forming and maintaing relationships in adulthood.

– increasing the child’s risk of developing anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation

– lowering the child’s ability to reason. This is because parents who discipline their child by explaining what they did wrong, rather than just by punishing them, help their child to develop his/her own reasoning ability. However, in contrast,  parents who rely solely on punishment are failing to nurture the child’s reasoning ability in relation to differentiating right from wrong.


It is also important to note that children who are punished for their behaviour are far more likely to learn ways to avoid detection so that they can continue with the behaviour than they are to stop the behaviour.

In contrast, children whose parents take the time to explain to them why their behaviour is wrong are more likely to comply with the parents’ wishes and internalize the parents’ system of values.

Conclusion :

Positive discipline is far more effective than negative discipline. Furthermore, negative discipline has many, and, often, seriously harmful effects on the child and is frequently likely to be counter-productive; often achieving the opposite of that which was intended.

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).



About David Hosier MSc

Holder of MSc and post graduate teaching diploma in psychology. Highly experienced in education. Founder of Survivor of severe childhood trauma.

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