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‘Hugs, not hits’ produce sociable kids

If you want sociable, warm, empathetic kids, cuddle them instead of cuffing them.

Perhaps this is unsurprising, yet the authors of the study that produced this finding say smacking is still a common discipline method across many cultures.

“Hugs, Not Hits: Warmth and Spanking as Predictors of Child Social Competence” was published in the Journal of Marriage and Family. It suggested that instead of smacking kids to discipline them, parents should simply be nice. “The best bet for parents is to model the behaviour they want to see in their children … If you want your children to be warm, friendly and sociable, then be warm, friendly and kind towards them,” the authors offered. Examples of maternal warmth proffered were “affection, positive reinforcement and responding verbally to children”.

The study also found no positive outcomes from smacking and some specific negative ones; notably, “higher levels of aggression, poorer mental health, lower cognitive ability, more negative relationships with parents, and a higher risk of delinquency and criminality”.

And it’s not that parents are sadists. Authors Elizabeth Gershoff, Inna Altschul and Shawna J. Lee indicated that for most of them, spanking was well-intentioned yet misguided. “Many parents believe that the physical pain of spanking, when accompanied by a message about behaving well, will discipline children into being ‘nicer’ and having more socially desirable behaviours,” they said.

Children’s caregivers and educators also have a role to play in anti-spanking, pro-hug efforts “Professionals who work with children should discourage parents from spanking young children. They should encourage parents to be warm and responsive to their children,” the authors advised.

With 75 per cent of kids in the US having been spanked at least once, and this punitive measure peaking when children are aged 3, the study’s results have the potential to produce a generation of happier, more sociable kids. That’s worth a pat on the back, if not a warm embrace.

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