COLUMBIA, Mo. — Spanking and other forms of physical punishment can haunt children for years after infancy and lead to negative behavior, a new study finds.
Researchers at the University of Missouri analyzed data pulled from 1,840 African-American or European-American mothers and children who participated in the Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project.
Families participating in the federally-funded Early Head Start program must have income that falls below the federal poverty level, and children must be three years of age or younger.
For their study, researchers examined children at 15 months, 25 months, and when they were in fifth grade.
To determine the effects of spanking, researchers administered surveys to mothers and children, conducted home visits, and interviewed children’s fifth-grade teachers.
Overall, black youth were found to show a range of antisocial behaviors in fifth grade if they had been physically abused at 15 months. Those behaviors included increased aggressiveness, delinquency, and a lack of willingness to help fellow peers.
While white children did not demonstrate comparable effects from spanking on its own, they were likely to project negative outcomes if they had poor emotional regulation.
Both black and white youths stand to benefit from self-regulation, the researchers argue.
“Our findings show how parents treat their children at a young age, particularly African-American children significantly impacts their behavior,” says lead researcher Gustavo Carlo in a university news release. “It is very important that parents refrain from physical punishment as it can have long-lasting impacts. If we want to nurture positive behaviors, all parents should teach a child how to regulate their behaviors early.”
Carlo calls for parents, educators, and other resource providers to nurture well-being and resiliency in at-risk children.
Previous research had found similar negative effects of physical punishment, but adverse outcomes were not examined in the long-term.
The study’s findings were published in the journal Developmental Psychology.