Methods: To determine whether spanking by age 1 is associated with children's cognitive and behavioral outcomes during early and middle childhood, we estimate a series of ordinary least squares (OLS) regressions that focus on associations between spanking in the first year of a child's life and two child outcomes measured at both ages three and five: the child's receptive vocabulary, as measured by the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-Revised (PPVT-R), and the child's total number of behavior problems, as measured by the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL). We control for race, income, mother's age, mother's PPVT-R score, child's temperament at age 1, additional spanking after age 1, and more extreme forms of discipline. The data are drawn from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCW). Results: Results did not fully support those from prior work linking spanking by age 1 to adverse outcomes at age 3 (Berlin et al., 2009). Specifically, it was found that spanking prior to age 1 is associated with more externalizing behavior problems, but is not associated with internalizing behavior problems or lower cognitive scores at age 3. Additionally, it was found that spanking prior to age 1 is associated with increased internalizing behavior problems, but not with externalizing behavior problems or lower cognitive scores at age 5. These findings suggest an immediate externalizing behavior effect and a lagged internalizing behavior effect.
Conclusions and Implications: That spanking appears to be associated both short-term externalizing behavior problems and longer-term internalizing behavior problems suggests that practitioners should work with families to reduce or eliminate spanking whenever possible. Furthermore, the identification of lagged effects on internalizing behavior problems warrants further investigation to determine the process through which spanking is related to this outcome. After gaining a better understanding of this process, practitioners may be able to use this knowledge to intervene with families who engage in spanking to lessen its impact on children. Additionally, because this study was unable to replicate the findings of prior work, additional research should be done to understand the relationship between spanking and child outcomes.