Disciplining children is best without a smack: Psychologists

Understanding some of the stresses that parents undergo in parenting children is an important issue that has received little attention in the recent media debate around a US study on the effectiveness of discipline and smacking children.

Parenting children can be especially challenging during the long summer holidays when families often spend more time together. Warmer weather can also see tempers fray.

Australian Psychological Society (APS) President, Professor Bob Montgomery, said it is helpful for parents to recognise that holiday time, although traditionally for fun and relaxation, can also be quite stressful.

"Children might be squabbling more than usual, asking for things, seeking attention. This can be exhausting and frustrating for parents, with some parents more likely to lose their temper with their children. It can be helpful for parents to use one or more calming strategies before this happens - such as talking to a friend and letting them know how you are feeling, or taking some slow, calming breaths, and saying things to yourself like „stay calm‟. Some parents find that walking out of the room, having a drink of water, or playing some music can help them to calm down, and regain control so that they can deal more effectively with their children."

Research shows that physical punishment for bad behaviour does not work as well as other ways of disciplining children.

  • If a parent frequently uses physical punishment, children often have trouble learning to control themselves.
  • Physical punishment on its own does not teach children right from wrong.
  • Physical punishment makes children afraid to disobey when parents are present, and when parents are not present to administer the punishment, those same children are more likely to misbehave (Gershoff, 2002).
  • Hitting or spanking your child is likely to decrease the quality of your relationship with them.

The APS Parent guide to helping children manage conflict, aggression and bullying contains useful information about how to manage a child‟s behaviour in an effective way, without being aggressive or unduly punishing the child. More useful strategies include the use of logical consequences, time out, or withdrawal of consequences. This practical guide is freely available from the APS website: http://www.psychology.org.au/publications/tip_sheets/bullying/.  

For media enquiries please contact:

Ellise McLoughlan
Public Relations and Marketing Coordinator
Australian Psychological Society
T: 03 8662 3300 | M: 0428 445 097

Karen Coghlan
Senior Media Coordinator
Australian Psychological Society
T: 03 8662 6638 | M: 0414 740 891


The APS is the largest professional association for psychologists in Australia, representing more than 17,500 members. The APS is committed to advancing psychology as a discipline and profession. It spreads the message that psychologists make a difference to peoples' lives, through improving psychological knowledge and community wellbeing.