No Drama-Discipline: Spanking and the Brain
Continuing with our topic of No Drama-Discipline, this month we will discuss how spanking children could affect brain development.
Many of us grew up in households that used spanking for punishment. I can remember my dad telling me to go get a switch from the yard. When he said that, I perked right up and started to behave. Not because I knew I was doing wrong, but because I was afraid of the pain I was about to go through. After all, about 30 minutes or so later I was back to doing what it was that he was ‘disciplining’ me for.
Based on neuroscience and research, it is said that spanking is counterproductive when it comes to building a strong, respectful relationship with our children. Instead, it shifts the child’s attention from her own behavior to how their caregiver is going to respond to the behavior, therefore, the child is no longer considering their own actions. Instead, they are thinking about how scary their parents are or how mean they are which undermines the goal of teaching a new behavior and building strong connections within the brain. Remember from the beginning, the goal of discipline is to teach appropriate behaviors.
Another reason spanking should not be used is it confuses the brain. From birth, your brain is wired to run towards the attachment figure for safety. However, when faced with terror or fear, your brain tells you to escape from the pain. This leads to what is known as disorganized attachment. When this attachment is formed, cortisol is released in the brain which is a toxic hormone that can result in the death of brain connections and brain cells.
When children are faced with the experience of fear or pain, energy flows to the primitive, reactive parts of the brain. Think of this as fight, flight, or freeze. The goal should be to direct the energy to the receptive, thinking, and more sophisticated parts of the brain which will allow children to make healthier choices and handle their emotions appropriately.
Throughout the next several months, we will discover how we as parents can direct the energy to the parts of the brain that increases healthy brain development and healthy behaviors.