Why corporal punishment for children doesn't work–and what to do instead

I wanted to understand why so many people still hit their children and if this approach had any merit.

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Travellingmumma/Twenty 20

I was stunned when I recently read an article reporting that 19 American states—mostly in the South—still allow corporal punishment in schools.

When I brought up this topic to my husband, he immediately questioned where I was getting this information. Given all the false media these days, he was skeptical. We conducted our own researchafter being raised up north, this was completely new territory for us.

I wanted to understand why so many people still hit their children and if this approach had any merit.

What exactly is corporal punishment?

Corporal punishment is not a term we hear every day. It's not exactly a topic that comes up during playdates and moms' night out.

According to The National Association of School Psychologists, corporal punishment is, "the intentional infliction of pain or discomfort and/or the use of physical force upon a student with the intention of causing the student to experience bodily pain so as to correct or punish the student's behavior." Common forms in schools and homes include spanking, hitting, and even paddling.

Throughout history, parents and teachers have hit children to try and teach them a lesson. Until the end of the last century, physical punishment of children was generally accepted worldwide. But then more information became available about the harm it causes to children both in the short and long term, which led to about 50 countries banning corporal punishment in all settings including the home.

However, it still goes on in the United States, and in fact, many parents think that's perfectly fine. In 2012, a national survey found that more than half of women and three-quarters of men in the United States believe a child sometimes needs to be spanked.

Does it work?

Putting history, culture, tradition – and even law – aside, let's just focus on what the scientific evidence tells us about the effectiveness of hitting our kids as a disciplinary tool.

Supporters often rely on personal anecdotes to argue that school corporal punishment, for example, improves students' behavior and achievement. Parents who hit their kids typically claim that they were struck during their childhood but turned out okay. However, there have been no studies reporting any benefits from hitting children.

On the other hand, a recent report issued in June 2016 assessed more than 250 studies exploring the relationship between physically punishing our kids and a wide range of outcomes. The results of the numerous studies reveal the following negative effects of corporal punishment:

Increased aggression

Children who are hit are more likely to be aggressive toward their peers, approve of violence in relationships, bully others, and be aggressive toward their parents. Researchers from Tulane University found that children who are spanked often, starting at age three, are more likely to show aggressive behavior by the time they're five than children who are not spanked.

Aggression is a reflexive response to experiencing pain. When children grow up with the understanding that violence is an appropriate way to get what you want, they'll mimic this behavior. In several surveys, children explain how they feel aggressive after being physically punished.

Exacerbated bad behavior

According to Sandra Graham-Bermann of the Child Violence and Trauma Laboratory at the University of Michigan, spanking may seem to stop bad behavior at the time, but in the long term it only makes the child behave worse.

In fact, corporal punishment has been linked to negative behaviors like bullying, lying, cheating, running away, truancy, school behavioral problems, and involvement in crime.

Mental health challenges

Hitting not only causes physical pain, but lingering emotional pain as well. It's been associated with behavioral disorders, anxiety disorders, depression, suicide attempts, alcohol and drug dependency, low self-esteem, hostility, and emotional instability.

Researchers observed that children's brains are actually altered when they are frequently spanked (at least once a month for more than three years). These children had less gray matter in certain areas of the prefrontal cortex, which has been linked to depression, addiction, and other mental health disorders.

Reduced cognitive ability

The change in gray matter also affects a child's IQ, decision making, and thought processing capabilities. Some studies also showed that adults who experienced corporal punishment as children were less likely to graduate from college and have successful careers.

Ongoing cycle of abuse

A 2011 study published in Child Abuse and Neglect confirms that children who are hit are more likely to use the action to solve problems in the future, and use this same approach with their own children. Corporal punishment perpetuates itself and it's very difficult to break that cycle.

Analysis of several studies found that corporal punishment can ruin the relationship between parents and children because it makes children feel rejected by their parents and teaches them to fear and avoid their parents.

What are some safer, more effective discipline options?


Experts from key organizations around the world offer the following healthier, more productive options for disciplining our children:

Develop verbal communication

The most important step is to develop an open, honest line of communication with your children from a very young age so that they'll become emotionally intelligent.

This is a skill that helps them recognize, direct, and positively express their emotions, allowing them to overcome challenges and build stronger relationships throughout their lives.

Present consequences

Show your children what'll happen if they do not behave. Be specific about the consequences that will result because of their behavior. For example, when children throw their toys, explain how the toys can break and how sad that will make them feel.

Take away privileges


Tell your children that if they do not cooperate, they will have to give something up, like a favorite toy. The American Academy of Pediatrics provides the following guidelines when you use this approach:

Never take away something your child truly needs, such as a meal.

Choose something that your child values that is related to the misbehavior.

For children under seven, withholding privileges works best if done immediately.

Follow through on your promise.

Give a time-out

The goal of a time-out is to separate children from unacceptable behavior to allow them to pause and cool off. It tends to work well when a specific rule has been broken. It's most effective for children ages two to five, but can be used throughout childhood. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests these tips for making time-out most effective:

Set rules in advance; decide which behaviors will lead to a time-out and explain this to your child.

Choose a consistent time-out spot that is a boring place with no distractions.

Explain the reason for the time-out. Be very specific about what they did to need a time-out. Let them know how their behavior made your feel.

Set a time limit based on age. A rule of thumb is 1 minute of time-out for every year of your child's age.

Resume activity when the time is up and do not dwell on what they did wrong.

Try mindfulness

This new form of discipline is now a huge success at several schools. Try creating a calm corner in your home where your children can spend time reflecting on their behavior.

Whether or not you hit your kid is ultimately your own business, especially in a country that does not necessarily consider it illegal to physically harm an innocent child. But before you raise your hand, consider the many proven negative impacts that it can have on your child – now, and for the rest of their lives. Keep in mind that the parenting decisions we make today influence the generations of tomorrow.

[Update, September 13, 2018: This article was originally published in 2016. The link to the news article in the intro and stats on how many states allow corporal punishment in schools has been updated for 2018.]

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The HATCH Mama collection is everything your pregnant body needs right now

Their oil is the only thing that stopped my belly from itching as it grew bigger.

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Let me start by saying I'm not a fan of moisturizing. I hate being wet and sticky and after applying product to my body, I have to stand around awkwardly until I'm fully air-dried—a practice that is not compatible with having three kids under the age of 3. However, as someone who has carried three children in her body, I also know how much your belly needs hydration as the baby grows.

This was especially true with my second pregnancy. My belly popped way sooner (a thing that happens with subsequent pregnancies) and on top of that, I was carrying twins, which meant I became super pregnant super fast. My belly was itching constantly from the skin stretching (I checked with my doctor to make sure I didn't have Cholestasis) and there was no scratching in the world that could ease my discomfort. My doula recommended the HATCH Mama belly oil and changed my life. The oil is nourishing—but more important to me, quick-drying—so I could apply it all over my planet-sized twin belly and get dressed immediately after without having my clothes ruined nor stuck to my body. Because of how much I loved the oil, I tested other products, and let me tell you, they're all equally amazing.

Curious about the HATCH Mama collection? All of their products are non-toxic and mama-safe, designed to help pregnant people overcome the challenges unique to pregnancy. As their website claims, "from stretch marks to thinning hair, to sleepless nights, we're helping you tackle every prenatal and postnatal beauty issue head-on so you can continue to feel like the best version of you." I'm here for all of this. For the entire Hatch Beauty collection click here.


Here are my favorite products from HATCH Mama:


Belly oil

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Intensely hydrating + fantastic at reducing the appearance of stretch marks and scars, this will be your favorite through pregnancy + beyond.

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Belly mask

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Not only does it help to minimize the appearance of stretch masks + scars during pregnancy + postpartum, but there is a little non-toxic wink (and that's to you, mama.)

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Nipple + lip ointment 

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Calming + soothing, this magic sauce is lanolin-free & made of tropical butters and super fruits. I'm not lying when I say you will not want to stop using this, even way after birth.

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Belly tattoos

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A very rock and roll way to honor your bump. And non-toxic + plant-based at that!

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This article was originally published in March 2021. It has been updated.

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Motherly created the flexible online birth class moms need

The Motherly Birth Class is completely online, which means you can take the class at your own pace.

Taking a birth class is a pregnancy milestone. Whether you've been excited to take a birth class for a long time or have just recently decided that you wanted to take one, sitting down for that first lesson feels big—spoiler alert, this is really happening! But finding time for a birth class isn't as easy as it would seem.

We know new parents are busy (hello, understatement of the year). Between diaper changes, pediatrician appointments, healing from birth and the general adjustment to #newparentlife, the days can fill up quickly. But a lot of people are caught off guard by how busy pregnancy can be, too! That first trimester is so often full of symptoms—like nausea and fatigue—that can make previously easy or simple tasks exhausting. The second trimester begins and (usually) we start to feel better. But then our days get filled with planning out baby registries and deciding on questions like, "Where will this tiny new human sleep?" And before you know it, it's the third trimester—and, well, then you're in the home stretch. Plus there are so many appointments!

All this to say that we get how busy you are—and how hard that might make it to fit in a birth class.

And that's why we created The Motherly Birth Class. The Motherly Birth Class is completely online, which means you can take the class at your own pace.


Think you'll want to watch each lesson a few times over? Great!

Due date's next week and you need the option to take a birth class very quickly? No problem!

Like everything at Motherly, we designed this class with you in mind.

Taught by Certified Nurse-Midwife Diana Spalding (who also wrote "The Motherly Guide to Becoming Mama"), this class is broken into 12 lessons—and you get to control how and when you watch them. We'll teach you about what your (amazing) body is up to in labor, how to decide when it's time to head to the hospital or birth center (or when to call your home birth midwife), what your options are for coping with pain and so much more.

When you sign up for The Motherly Birth Class, you'll get access to a downloadable workbook and meditations. Plus, you'll be invited to join our supportive private online community (where you can chat with the class instructor!)

Oh, one more thing: Your insurance or flexible spending account might even able to able to cover the cost of this class.

Pregnancy is wonderful—but it's a lot. You deserve a birth class that works for you and empowers you to have your best birth. Because vaginal or Cesarean, unmedicated or medication, birth is incredible. And you are the star of it all.

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Sign up for The Motherly Birth Class today!

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Take our completely digital birth class from the comfort of your living room. We'll help you have your best birth—because you deserve it.

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14 toys that will keep your kids entertained inside *and* outside

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

Keeping kids entertained is a battle for all seasons. When it's warm and sunny, the options seem endless. Get them outside and get them moving. When it's cold or rainy, it gets a little tricker.

So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of the best toys for toddlers and kids that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, many are Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these indoor outdoor toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.


Secret Agent play set

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This set has everything your little secret agent needs to solve whatever case they might encounter: an ID badge, finger scanner, walkie-talkie handset, L-shaped scale and coloring comic (a printable file is also available for online download) along with a handy belt to carry it all along. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

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Mini golf set

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Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

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Stepping Stones

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Wooden doll stroller

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Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

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Sand play set

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Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

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Sensory play set

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Filled with sand or water, this compact-sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

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Vintage scooter balance bike

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Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

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Foam pogo stick

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Designed for ages 3 and up, My First Flybar offers kiddos who are too young for a pogo stick a frustration-free way to get their jump on. The wide foam base and stretchy bungee cord "stick" is sturdy enough to withstand indoor and outdoor use and makes a super fun addition to driveway obstacle courses and backyard races. Full disclosure—it squeaks when they bounce, but don't let that be a deterrent. One clever reviewer noted that with a pair of needle-nose pliers, you can surgically remove that sucker without damaging the base.

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Dumptruck 

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Hopper ball

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Pull-along ducks

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Rocking chair seesaw

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Baby forest fox ride-on

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Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

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Meadow ring toss game

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Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

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Extended breastfeeding just happened for me—and I'm in no rush to end it

My son is two and a half and still nursing, and it's what makes sense for us.

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When I became pregnant with my first child, I assumed that I would breastfeed. I also assumed that I would pump and give bottles. I even had all the bottles, a bottle warmer, and a bottle drying rack all ready to go. I made sure I got my pump before the baby came, so I was ready. But then, I actually tried pumping a couple of times and hated it. It was tedious, time-consuming, and not as effective, so nursing was the standard between my two children. It came naturally for me, and I found it the easier of the two options since I stayed home with them anyway. I was always there when they needed it.

I was able to breastfeed my first until she was two and a half, at which point, I was seven months pregnant with her brother. Between the hormones, being touched out, and being uncomfortable, I decided to fully wean her. It had been coming for some time because the clock was ticking on getting her to sleep on her own before the new baby came since we had been co-sleeping up to this point.

I cut night feedings first, moved her to her own bed, and then weaned her completely as I went along in my pregnancy. She still wanted to nurse to sleep, but I had to stop eventually because I was so uncomfortable. My body and brain could not take it anymore, but I'm proud I made it that far with her and that I nursed that far into pregnancy.

When my second child came around, my son, breastfeeding was not only easier, but I found myself here: extended breastfeeding.


He recently passed two and a half, which is where my daughter stopped, and he is still co-sleeping. He still nurses quite a bit, because his tummy hurts because of constipation issues. He still uses it to soothe and help him go back to sleep at night. He's getting too big to stay in our bed much longer, but I'm in no rush to wean him completely until he's ready.

Being able to stay home with them has definitely fostered the breastfeeding relationship. Cuddling is a huge part of it, too, and I'll continue to breastfeed until it makes sense to stop.

While my husband doesn't always agree with that philosophy and tells him that he's a big boy and can be done having milk, it's ultimately not up to him. I told my son that we would work through it together.

It is still an emotional connection thing, and at the same time, it still has benefits for him. He's still getting nutrients especially designed for him. He's still getting supplemental nutrition while he doesn't want to eat as much otherwise if his stomach is hurting.

My body has been doing this for a long time. I'm used to it. While I get touched out some days, I also know how helpful breastfeeding still is to help him settle down and how much he still appreciates it. I don't feel the need to cut him off quickly—both for his sake and mine.

I'm also painfully aware that this is probably my last baby. My breastfeeding journey, over five years in the making, will soon be over. As long as he is still getting the benefits and I'm not stressed over it, I'll let it continue on a limited basis. I know it will end soon—it has to. He will be growing up and entering the next stage before I know it. But until then, I'm going to cuddle my baby boy a bit longer. I'm going to let him nurse at certain times and in certain situations.

I never intended to do extended breastfeeding with either of them, but it just happened naturally. And that's okay. You need to do what makes the most sense and do what your intuition tells you is right for your family.

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