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Oct 21, 2013 01:06 PM EDT

Parental Spanking and Lack of Communication Lead to Aggression and Worse Vocabulary in Children


Children spanked by their parents during their pre-school and kindergarten years are more likely to be aggressive when it comes time to start elementary school, Reuters reported.

The study, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, suggests spanking encourages aggression and physical retribution as a form of justice. University of Texas at Austin parental discipline researcher Elizabeth Gershoff said teaching a child to verbally express their problems is far more constructive.

"When (children) want another kid's toy, the parents haven't taught them how to use their words or how to negotiate," Gershoff, who was not involved in the study, said. "Spanking models aggression as a way of solving problems, that you can hit people and get what you want."

Columbia University School of Social Work associate professor Michael MacKenzie, study lead author, said he and his colleague's work is just part of a growing research trend that discourages spanking children in order to teach them a lesson. Despite this, spanking is still fairly common in many households.

"Most kids experience spanking at least some point in time," he said. "So there's this disconnect."

For the study, the researchers examined a total of 1,933 children aged either three or five by surveying their parents on whether or not they practiced spanking and how often. According to their findings, 57 percent of mothers and 40 percent of fathers spank their children when they are three. At the age of five, those figures dropped slightly to 52 percent and 33 percent, respectively.

The researchers also noted that children who were spanked also scored slightly lower than the national average in vocabulary around the age of nine. Gershoff did not believe there was a direct connection between the two, but noted it could be due to a lack of communication between child and parent.

"We know that spanking doesn't work, we know that yelling doesn't work," Gershoff said. "Timeout is kind of a mixed bag. We know that reasoning does work."

The study observed that while spanking succeeds immediately for parents in disciplining their children, it harms their attitude in the long run.

"Spanking does make the kid stop," MacKenzie told the New York Times. "It gives the immediate feedback that it's working. But the goal is to have kids regulate themselves over time. And in that, spanking fails."

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