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Spare the rod, save the child

Almost every parent wants what is best for their children. It’s also common for parents to believe that they know what is best for their children. Sometimes that confidence comes from how we were raised – whether it’s because we want to emulate our parents or want to avoid their mistakes – and other times it comes from our own experiences and our own research.

This kind of certainty, however, can easily lead us astray as neither we nor our parents are infallible. We owe it to our children to ensure that we are supplementing our methods with the advice of present-day experts, backed by rigorous research. The fact that, to this day, corporal (physical) punishment remains a common parenting practice throughout the world is a sure sign that many parents are failing to do just that… and our children are suffering for it.

According to the World Health Organization, around 60 percent of children aged 2-14 years regularly suffer physical punishment by their parents or other caregivers, and in some nations this is also common in schools. The risk is also one which is similar for all children – neither wealth, nor sex, was much of a defense against the risk of corporal punishment.

The reasons parents resort to corporal punishment are myriad. For some, this is how they themselves were raised, and how they expect parents to behave. After all, in many communities through much of history, children were not accorded many rights and there was a long-standing practice of corporal punishment. For some it became even a matter of principle – ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ – and a means of establishing the power hierarchy of the family, of imposing their authority. For others, it’s a product of emotion – frustration with the child, desperation to keep them safe, anger at the violation of a rule. The intentions can vary as well, from the desire to protect, or to correct, or to punish.

But whatever the reason and whatever the intention of the parent, the consequences for the children are the same.

Studies have shown that corporal punishment, understood to be the use of physical force to cause pain as a form of discipline, has predominantly resulted in worse relationships with