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Why Parents Are Still Spanking Kids When They Know It Doesn't Work

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The Short of It

A new study finds parents are still spanking their kids, even though they don't think it works. So why are they doing it? The answer might surprise you.

The Lowdown

A new study commissioned by parental education nonprofit Zero to Three proves that 90 percent of parents love having children, but most, 70 percent, say it isn't easy. And perhaps the hardest part of raising kids is discipline.

So, it's no wonder parents try a variety of measures to get their little ones to behave, including spanking them. The study found a quarter of parents of kids ages 5 and younger "pop or swat" them a few times a week or more. A fifth of parents admit they spank their children on a regular basis. And 17 percent actually hit their kids with objects, like a belt or a wooden spoon.

Still, most parents say they know spanking is not a very effective form of discipline and doesn't actually correct their kids' misbehavior.

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So why do parents spank kids if it doesn't even work? Claire Lerner, senior parenting strategist at Zero to Three, says it's because they don't know what else to do or they fear their child is in danger. For instance, if a toddler runs into traffic, a parent spanks him less to teach him a lesson and more because it scared the parent half to death.

Pre-interviews conducted by researchers confirm this notion. Lerner told Time magazine, " We saw a lot of angst for using harsh discipline. We have stories of parents crying in another room while their child is crying. We heard a lot of real desperation from parents, saying, 'I don't want to do this, but I don't know what else to do.'"

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Part of that frustration likely has to do with another key finding in the study: many parents may not understand enough about child development. For example, kids typically won't develop the ability to share and take turns, control their emotions, or resist the urge to do something they know they shouldn't until the age of 3 or 4. Just 29 percent of parents didn't expect their child to do those things until that age.

"Parents really overestimate just how much self-control kids have in the early years," says Lerner.

The Upshot

It's important to point out that research has linked corporal punishment of kids to poor outcomes, such as over-aggressiveness, low self-esteem and eventual drug and alcohol use.

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But don't be too hard on yourself if you have spanked your child. As Lerner notes, teaching kids right from wrong is a huge responsibility, and no one is an expert. Just keep in mind that children are going to test limits and misbehave. It's our job as parents to help them learn self-control and the right things to do.

The most important thing you can do when your child misbehaves is to remain calm. If you get hysterical, so will your child. And just realize you're going to make mistakes as a parent. But with more practice and planning ahead, you can effectively discipline your child without raising a hand to him.

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