30 Mar 2022


Physical Punishment as an Effective Method of Training Children

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Academic level: College

Paper type: Term Paper

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The rationale for any behaviour modification is to change an undesired behaviour to a more adaptive one or to acquire the desired response. It is usually effective when dealing with common behavioural problems when normal discipline is not working, and when parents and children are in a constant power struggle. When working with kids with behavioural problems, it is fundamental to think about the ABC of the behaviour. A stands for Antecedent which triggers a reaction before it occurs. B stands for the nature of the behaviour that is happening and C stands for the consequence of the outcome. Behaviour modification is a technique based on the principle that strengthening or weakening response depends on how people in a child’s environment treat it. Positive actions can be reinforced using rewards whereas adverse behaviours can be diminished by implementing negative consequence such as punishment. The aim of the paper is to discuss physical punishment as a way of training children to adopt desired behaviours.

At one point in life, all children misbehave and parents are left with the task of disciplining them. The challenge most parents face is how to teach their children. Many children need limits and rules to guide them in acquiring desired behaviours. Physical punishment or corporal punishment refers to anything that causes pain or discomfort when administered on children. Examples of physical punishment include spanking, slapping, pinching, pulling, hitting, and making someone do an unpleasant deed. 

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Literature Review

In many American families, corporal punishment is a widely used method to discipline children even amidst controversies from child development and psychological communities. Psychologist Elizabeth Thompson Gershoff conducted a large- scale meta-analysis of eighty-eight studies that evaluated both the negative and positive behaviours linked to physical punishment. Her analysis included data that had been in existence for the past sixty-two years. Gershoff searched for the links between parental use of physical punishment and eleven children behaviours. It included a variety of responses that are dominant in childhood (moral internalisation, relationship with a parent, compliance, and abuse from the father or mother). Secondly, there were three behaviours studied for both childhood and adulthood (mental health, violence, and antisocial behaviours). The extreme response was in adulthood and it involved the abuse of children and spouse. According to the study physical punishments has been strongly associated with the assessed behaviour. Ten of the responses indicated adverse outcomes whereas, the single desirable association showed that physical punishment bore positive short-term results and compliance by many children. In the study, Gershoff cautions that corporal punishment is effective in disciplining children. However, it should not be administered to the level where it results to physical maltreatment. 

Additionally, Gershoff states that not every child who undergoes corporal punishment will turn out to be violent or delinquent. Different factors influence how punishment is perceived such as the relationship between a child and a parent. Caregivers should be aware of the boundaries between punishment and abuse. 

In his article, Counterpoint: the Benefits of Corporal Punishment, Brian Wilson argues that physical punishment is effective in bringing up children. Despite the complaint and controversies presented by many people over punishment, common sense dictates that it is reasonable to use it. He urges parents not to assume the power of intimidation. Wilson believes that in a school setting, punishment helps to maintain order among students. It is evident that at the developmental stage of children, there exists high levels of immaturity and lack of social order. Therefore, using corporal punishment as a method of discipline is effective in ensuring accountability of behaviours and the responsibility to own up to deeds. He takes an example of a teacher giving a student a firm swat on the bottom when the other methods of physical punishment fail. He terms this as embarrassing if it does not damage the ego and believes that spanking is the best way of giving punishment. 

In a study of physical punishment as perceived by parents in Russia, a sample of one hundred parents from Petersburg was selected. The majority of the participants agreed to the fact that physical punishment was a legitimate method to use on children. When it comes to the use of objects to instil discipline, one-third of the participants believed that the implementation of corporal punishment was appropriate for children between the ages of five to twelve. Additionally, forty percent of the participants felt that the use of corporal punishment should be less harsh towards the female gender. The most mentioned rationale for this strategy was the violation of collectivist-based norms. Most of the parents testified that the use of punishment on their children was useful not unless they had behavioural disorders such as ADHD that required a more specialised attention. Even though the study findings showed that most parents agreed with physical punishment as a method to train children, they also illuminated on the ways on how to reduce risks that could lead to physical abuse when punishments are done inappropriately.

In Africa, a study was done in Uganda to seek the perceptions of teachers on the use of corporal punishment (Naker and Setikoleto, 2009). Interviews were conducted with different people from teachers to elders within the community. Some of the educators and adults argued that it was unwise to fail to punish a child when he or she goes wrong. This quote has been used by most of the African cultures where they also demand respect to elders; therefore, parents are urged to instill fear in their children as a way of maintain respect and cultural values. According to a female interviewee who was quoted saying that this is something that cannot be avoided. “It is the only way they can learn to respect elders?” Also, many parents believed that there is no gain without pain. In addition to that, an elderly community was quoted saying that a child can be punished using various methods. What is important is that the child experiences pains and remembers the pain which will make him or her to avoid doing wrong and in return children behaved appropriately. 

Based on the above researches done on the advantages of physical punishment on children, I believe that it is not entirely appropriate to punish a child using physical means. It is because continuous use of physical abuse can make children resent school and have bad relationships with their caregivers, which will affect their development. I believe in some ways to motivate a child to engage in healthy behaviours. One of the ways is to have a supportive, healthy relationship with your child and letting them know what is expected of them. In my opinion, the methodologies used in the discussed researchers failed to include the children as participants. It would have given parents and teachers insight into their feelings about the use of corporal punishment. On the other side, when children are praised for doing right they will be motivated to be good and shun from doing wrong. Therefore, in behaviour modification, I believe positive reinforcements have better results than using negative reinforcements on children. 


Gershoff, E. T. (2002). Corporal punishment by parents and associated child behaviors and experiences: a meta-analytic and theoretical review. Psychological bulletin , 128 (4),39.

Naker, D., & Sekitoleko, D. (2009). Positive discipline: creating a good school without corporal punishment. Kampala: Raising voices .

Shor, R. (2006). Physical punishment as perceived by parents in Russia: implications for professionals involved in the care of children. Early Child Development and Care , 176 (3-4), 429-439.

Wilson, Brian. (2016) Counterpoint: The Benefits of Corporal Punishment. Retrieved on 30 March from http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/12437654/counterpoint-benefits-corporal-punishment

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StudyBounty. (2023, September 16). Physical Punishment as an Effective Method of Training Children.


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