Why parents spank their children
Part of the problem, according to Zero To Three, is that many parents don’t fully understand how their child develops.
Many parents underestimate how early children can be affected by what goes on around them, and half the parents polled believe that the quality of parents’ care doesn’t begin to have long-term effects on their child until after they are aged 6 months, when in fact their care has a big impact on their child from birth. Four of 10 parents also believe that children don’t feel sad or fearful until they are aged 1 year or older, although these feelings actually begin around age 3 to 5 months.
Parents also have a knowledge deficit when it comes to understanding their child’s capabilities, and this could lead to discipline problems.
“Our survey found that many parents significantly overestimate their children’s ability for self-control, which can lead to punitive versus supportive responses when children are struggling. Pediatricians serve an important role by sharing information about developmental milestones and what it means for children’s behavior. For example—sharing or the ability of children to stop themselves from doing something (even though they have been told ‘no’) doesn’t happen consistently before age 4,” says Claire Lerner, senior parenting advisor at Zero To Three. “Helping parents understand typical child behavior makes them feel confident and prepared. It also reduces frustration and anger and builds empathy, all which promotes children’s healthy development because parents’ expectations are better aligned with children’s capacities. Further, parents are more likely to take a loving approach to guiding their children’s behavior, versus a harsh, shaming, and ultimately ineffective approach.”
Forty-three percent of the parents polled believe that children are capable of sharing before age 2 years, however, this skill doesn’t develop until ages 3 years or 4 years. Almost 40% believe that children aged younger than 2 years have enough impulse control to resist temptations that are forbidden to them, and 56% believe children aged younger than 3 years have those abilities. However, children don’t really master impulse control until closer to age 4 years.
“This is especially important because the way that parents interpret the meaning of a child’s behavior can influence the sensitivity of their responses—including when and how they discipline,” according to the report. “If a parent thinks a child is capable of greater self-control than he actually is, and in reality that ability is still 6 months away, it can lead to a punitive rather than supportive response.”