Is Corporal Punishment a Strategy for Behavioral Change

A stitch in time saves nine. This is a famous proverb which means to deal with problems now than to act later. Similarly managing behavior and emotional disorders should start in childhood rather than waiting for them to escalate out of proportion later on in adolescence or adulthood. The question is what is the best way of managing bad behavior? In most societies corporal punishment has been one of the interventions used to address behavioral disorders and emotional behaviors. What is it that leads some children into behaving the way they do, be it negative or positive behavior.

Why is it that some children will generally exhibit good behavior others do not? In trying to understand behavior, a number of behavioral psychologists have endeavored to study and understand human behavior from childhood to adulthood. Anderson (2012) explains that children are considered normal when they conform to certain standards that are set by adults of the society. She further explains that some children behave contrary to what is expected for their age and stage of development.

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These abnormal behaviors are referred to as emotional and behavioral disorders.

Some characteristics of emotional and behavioral disorders as described by the American International Journal of Contemporary Research (2012) include being: Physically abusive to others, no regards for people’s property, indifferent to other people’s feelings or lack of apathy, learning challenges that cannot be easily explained. McLeod (2007) acknowledges the fact that the most influential behaviorist was Burrhus Frederic Skinner commonly known as B. F Skinner. Skinner believed that the best way to understand behavior is to look at the causes of an action and its consequences.

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He called this approach operant conditioning which was based on Edward Thorndike’s “Law of Effect”. According to Skinner operant conditioning is “changing of behavior by the use of reinforcement which is given after the desired response”. Skinner identified three types of responses or operant that can follow behavior. Namely, Neutral operands, reinforcers and punishers. Skinner defined neutral operants as responses that neither increase nor decrease the probability of a behavior being repeated.

On the other hand rein forcers are responses from the environment that increase the probability of a behavior being repeated. These can be either positive or negative. The third response he termed as punishers. These are responses from the environment that decrease the likelihood of a behavior being repeated. (Mcleod,2007) From Skinners theory we can see that behavior being perpetuated or decreased is largely dependent on the environment in which that behavior is being exhibited. If the behavior generates a positive stimulus then it will be repeated.

If the stimulus is negative it is most likely not to be repeated. This theory has been applied to shaping children’s behaviors by either applying a punishment of some sort to curb the un desirable behavior or to apply a reward to increase on the behavior. So how can we apply operant conditioning to corporal punishment is straightening out behavior? Different facets of society have strongly opposed the use of corporal punishment as a means of behavioral change in children while others still maintain that it is the most effective form of corrective action yielding instant notable results.

What complicates this issue is the fact that sometimes behavior is genetically inherited and some as suggested in Albert Bandura’s Social learning theory is modeled behavior. Modeled in the sense that the child copies the behavior from peers or from someone they regard as a role model in their life. Unfortunately the behavior modeled can either be good or bad. What then must a parent or teacher do when faced with children who are downright unruly, destructive, disobedient and violent? We must agree that some children can be quite truant and their conduct can make one feel like just ripping them apart in anger.

The bible in dealing with such deviant tendencies in children tells us in proverbs that” spare the rod, spoil the child”. Clearly the bible endorses corporal punishment as a form of correcting behavior because some children will not adhere to you what tell them unless you beat them up. Phil (2013) defines corporal punishment as “the intentional act of disciplining by inflicting physical pain as retribution for an offense or wrongdoing. The purpose of corporal punishment is to prevent the offense or wrongdoing from happening again by instilling or associating fear with these undesired acts”.

Corporal punishment is a form of positive punishment when explained in terms of B. F Skinners’ concept of punishment by application. While positive punishment can be effective in some situations, B. F. Skinner noted that its use must be weighed against any potential negative effects. As crude as it seems, capital punishment has a number of merits that warrant its use. Capital punishment serves as a deterrent and is usually very effective depending on the extent to which it is administered. The pain and agony one goes through is usually registered in one’s mind and it is that ain which induces fear to not repeat the undesired action again. Phil (2013) highlights the following reasons as merits which warrant the use of corporal punishment to get children in line. He points out that corporal punishment brings about compliance to regulations and norms set by society. Children who are caned or spanked will usually comply with social norms such as respecting elders and authority, adhering to bed time routines, doing homework or housework and even compliance to school regulations.

There is nothing more frustrating than teaching children who disregard school authority and regulations. These types of children emanate from homes devoid of stringent punitive measures and as such they don’t fear anything and don’t care whether they get into trouble or not because they are never beaten. Gleaner (2011) reports that an according to a British newspaper a significant number of parents want to see corporal punishment reintroduced in schools to reverse rampant indiscipline. Since corporal punishment was abolished in schools there has been an increase in the level of unruliness among pupils. Read why vandalism happen 

Therefore corporal punishment is an effective disciplinary tool for both at home and at school. Another factor which makes corporal punishment as an effective intervention strategy is that it is fast and yields immediate results. If a child is spanked or caned, he immediately stops what he is doing. The effect is immediate than wasting time in trying to negotiate and reason with a child who will probably not adhere to your instructions in the first place. Additionally, corporal punishment definitely teaches right from wrong.

When a child is beaten, the introduction of un undesirable stimulus following the action will teach the child that what has been done is not desirable. The child will know that the action embarked upon is not good and hence the beating. For instance if he stills money and is spanked, he will know that stealing is bad which will also inculcate a level of respect for things that do not belong to him even when he is grows up. It creates a direct link between a behavior and its bad consequences. In today’s society, people do not stop and consider the consequences to their actions.

They instead ignore the net result or outcome of their decisions. For instance teenage children are more susceptible to getting involved in alcoholism, drug abuse; pregnancy and vandalism just to mention a few. All these can be deterred if a little pain and humiliation is applied to curb their illicit behaviors. With all these reasons for administering corporal punishment can we then say that it is a justifiable means of corrective action? According to the Michigan Department of Education (1992) children may fail to behave according to society’s expectation due to various reasons.

One of them being that the child may innocently not know what is socially appropriate behavior because they lack an appropriate model thus preventing a student from adopting appropriate behavior. For instance if a child comes from a broken home where parents are ever insulting each other and fighting. That child will adopt that lifestyle and probably cascade it to the school environment by insulting and hitting other pupils. Secondly, some children have emotional responses that interfere with their behaving appropriately and need to learn ways to control their emotional impulses.

Therefore administering corporal punishment has its demerits because without knowing the background causing a particular behavior in a child, it may end up doing more harm than good. Sendek (2011) explains that physical punishment can easily escalate and cross the line to physical abuse and causing serious injury especially when an instrument is used. The problem is that not everyone knows how to control their anger and emotions. When a parent or teacher is in such a frame of mind that is uncontrollable they may cause disastrous outcomes when beating a child.

The result of physical punishment is that the child will end up fearing the parent and not open up to the parent. This in turn makes the child prone to lying instead of telling the truth when they do something as they would be scared to being beaten. In the school environment, children who are usually beaten will not be free to think and come up with new ideas and innovations as their creativity is stifled whenever they are in the presence of the punisher. Additionally corporal punishment triggers a sense of revolt and revenge in the minds of student or the child.

This makes the child more deviant and notorious because they now try to get at the punisher as revenge for the pain inflicted on them. Corporal punishmement as explained by Sendek (2011) teaches that violence is an appropriate means of solving problems or frustrations with people. This makes the children more defiant and aggressive and puts them at risk in resolving anger. This point agrees with the Michigan Department of Education (1992) which aligns corporate punishment to demonstrating that, the use of force is a method of reducing conflict.

They explain that this form of punishment is effective in the short term but in the long term does not lead to alternative problem solving methods. This has been attributed to high levels of school vandalism and juvenile delinquency (read about reasons why vandalism happen). Further recent research studies have shown that there’s a relationship between IQ levels in children who are spanked and those not spanked. According to Pancharovski (2009) a recent study by University of New Hampshire professor Murray Straus shows that children who are spanked have lower IQs than children who are not spanked.

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Straus and colleagues measured spanking and IQ level in 806 children aged two to four and 704 children aged five to nine. Four years later, children aged two to four who were spanked had IQ scores on average five points lower than children who were not spanked in the same age group. It is further explained that Corporal punishment contains an element of shock to a child. Children, who are spanked or hit, experience a range of emotional or behavioral problems through to adulthood, including aggression and anxiety, leading to violence in the home, depression, and substance abuse or dependence.

Finally corporal punishment reduces the Childs self image and self esteem. It also serves as an arena for embarrassment especially if it’s done in full view of other people particularly peers. The onlookers or spectators contribute to killing the child’s inner self by jeering or making funny statements as the child is being beaten. When a child has low self esteem, they no longer believe in themselves and this has a negative impact on their academic achievement and progression as well as their future relationships with others. Having analyzed the merits and the demerits of corporal punishment.

At the end of it all, we want to build a society where children are obedient and respectful without necessarily causing harm to their emotional wellbeing. Discipline or punishment must include an explanation of why a particular behavior is unacceptable and what behavior is expected from the child. Holinger(2009) emphasizes that positive reinforcement by means of rewards or praise should be encouraged. The child should not only hear a parent speak when they are either scolding or beating them but must also acknowledge good deeds thus creating a good emotional bond.

Parents, caregivers and teachers must learn to listen to a child before acting and let the child explain their misdeed. Many times a child’s action is a mistake in judgment. And as such dialogue must be encouraged. To wrap it all up, parents and caregivers must be good examples to children. We sometimes think children are not watching, but they are watching us and marking all we do. Therefore we set the pace and children dance to the tune. We must lead by example so that children will model our good behavior for better citizens of tomorrow.

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Is Corporal Punishment a Strategy for Behavioral Change. (2020, Jun 01). Retrieved from

Is Corporal Punishment a Strategy for Behavioral Change

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