Can Spanking Improve ADHD Behaviors?

Scared toddler

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ADHD is a disorder that includes impulsivity—that is, difficulty with limiting one's own behaviors. As a result, one of the most important skills your child needs is self-discipline. Self-discipline, of course, increases as a person matures—but it can be taught through modeling and practice. Can spanking help to teach self-discipline?

The Problem with Spanking as a Form of Discipline for Children with ADHD

Spanking is not a very effective parenting strategy for any child. It may stop the behavior at that moment, but it does not teach new skills or appropriate replacement behaviors to children. Spanking also models aggressive behavior as a solution and can lead to deterioration in the parent-child relationship. In most cases, it also does not stop the problematic behavior in the longer term, particularly for a child with ADHD who tends to live in the moment and has difficulty connecting behaviors to consequences.

Can Negative Consequences Other Than Spanking Be Useful?

Negative consequences certainly have their place in parenting children with ADHD. The most effective way to use these consequences, however, is in a calm and consistent manner and in a way that helps your child learn ways to change the inappropriate behavior.

Spanking is effective in getting the child to comply immediately in the short term, but it does not promote positive and adaptive behaviors in the long run. Consequences such as removal of privileges, loss of special activity, and use of time-out have been shown to be more effective.

For a child with ADHD who has difficulty with self-regulation, a proactive approach to discipline is most effective. This approach includes a structured, predictable environment, immediate and frequent feedback, shaping and rewarding appropriate behavior, and using incentives before consequences.

How to Avoid Use of Spanking as a Consequence

Children with ADHD can be very exasperating—they are highly active, don't seem to learn from mistakes, need frequent monitoring and redirection, are impulsive, reactive, demanding and temperamental, or have aggressive or destructive tendencies. This can evoke a wide range of feelings and frustrate even the most patient of parents. In some cases, parents may resort to spanking as a last-ditch effort especially when they feel a lack of power or control over how to manage the behaviors.

If you find yourself in this situation, it can help to keep a disability perspective by understanding that your child has special needs. It can also help to remind yourself again and again not to personalize your child’s behaviors. Plan ahead about how you will deal with difficult situations, and when those incidents occur, take a long deep breath—or three or four—before responding to your child. This delay can often help you think through and respond with a more effective parenting technique than a spank.

By Keath Low
 Keath Low, MA, is a therapist and clinical scientist with the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities at the University of North Carolina. She specializes in treatment of ADD/ADHD.