Physical Punishment During Childhood Linked to Health Issues Later in Life

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

Although Americans’ stance on harsh physical punishment, such as spanking, towards kids has decreased since the 1960’s, two-thirds of people still approve of parents spanking their children, according to the American Psychological Association.


However, a recent study has linked this kind of childhood experience to several health problems later in life such as heart disease, obesity, and arthritis.

The study,  which was conducted by researchers at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada and published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, went back and looked at a list of participants in a 2004 study that featured 34,226 adults, 20 years of age or older, that were analyzed for alcohol and related conditions.

The results suggested that harsh physical punishment by parents, such as pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping, and hitting, has a direct correlation with odds for cardiovascular disease, obesity, and arthritis. Models of the study were adjusted for different sociodemographic variables, family history of abuse and dysfunction, and different mental disorders.

The issue of physical punishment to discipline children is controversial, and although it was a common practice twenty years ago, people are starting to wonder if this is really the only way.

“It’s a very controversial area even though the research is extremely telling and very clear and consistent about the negative effects on children,” suggests Sandra Graham-Bermann, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan.

It’s entirely possible, and likely, that some parents just don’t see other options, especially in the heat of the moment.

One of the best things a parent can do is simply talk to their children and find out where they are coming from. However, just talking isn’t enough. Parents must listen to their children empathetically and really see things from their point of view. Perhaps they are too young to understand certain concepts in life that only make sense with time and age.

Building a relationship based on trust and communication can be far more effective than discipline by physical punishment. Finding out why your child is mad at you and what you can do to change that may make a huge difference in his or her life that can affect them twenty years down the road.

It is easy for a child to act out with powerful emotions that cause him or her to scream, yell, pout, and perhaps not listen to a word the parent says. However, it is even easier for a parent to use their physical power to control and discipline their child right on the spot. The stronger thing to do is verbally communicate what is causing the distress in the relationship and find the time and place to solve it.

Another good strategy is to promote healthy coping skills for the child. Let them blow off some steam by playing with a new toy or gadget, then when they are in a better frame of mind, talk to them and find out exactly where they are coming from.