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Corporal Punishment - Topic Overview

Corporal punishment is the intentional use of physical force to cause bodily pain or discomfort as a penalty for unacceptable behavior. Corporal punishment includes any action that produces discomfort, such as:

  • Spanking, hitting, slapping, pinching, ear pulling, jabbing, shoving, or choking.
  • Forcing a child to assume a position that becomes painful over time.
  • Confining a child in an uncomfortable space.
  • Denying bathroom privileges.
  • Forcing a child to eat a noxious substance, such as soap or dog food.
  • Withholding water and food.

Corporal punishment is not an effective method of managing behavior. It does not teach a child how to act properly. At best, corporal punishment has only a temporary effect on behavior. And it may even make it worse. Not only does it reinforce some problem behavior, but also it teaches a child that physical force is the way to resolve conflict.

Corporal punishment can also have emotional and psychological effects, both short- and long-term, such as:

  • Impairing a child's trust and confidence.
  • Causing embarrassment, humiliation, a sense of worthlessness, anger, resentment, and confusion.
  • Causing children to have trouble forming close relationships, especially intimate relationships, with others later in life.

There are lots of other ways to discipline your child. Effective alternatives to corporal punishment depend on the age of your child and include:

  • Using distraction.
  • Using time-out.
  • Talking about why a certain behavior is wrong and what can be done instead.
  • Discussing values.
  • Creating consequences for actions that violate acceptable behaviors within your family.

Research has shown that positive reinforcement is more effective than corporal punishment. Catch your child doing something right and praise him or her. Don't wait until your child has done something wrong to notice his or her behavior.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: February 22, 2013
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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