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Spanking Hurts ADHD Kids More Than You Think, Part II

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In Spanking Hurts ADHD Kids More Than You Think, Part I, we considered the first 2 of 7 critical factors that suggest that spanking may be especially detrimental to ADHD kids.

Having considered an ADHD child’s heightened sensitivity and their parent(s)’ possible undiagnosed ADHD as two reasons to rule out spanking, let’s move on to the 5 final considerations.

3. Physical punishment is associated with mental health risks

We’ve got ADHD. We’re already at a higher risk for co-occurring depression and anxiety, which also happen to be associated with the use of spanking. (Durrant and Ensom, 2012)

These aren’t the only risks to consider.

“In addition, physical punishment can cause alterations in the dopaminergic regions associated with vulnerability to the abuse of drugs and alcohol.”  (Durrant and Ensom, 2012)

Faulty dopamine systems are often implicated in ADHD, and research has already established a higher risk of drug and alcohol abuse in ADHD adolescents and adults. Why throw gasoline on the fire by spanking an ADHD child?

4. More of us are adopted

Low says that spanking “can lead to deterioration in the parent-child relationship.” She’s right.

Specifically, according to Durrant and Ensom (2012), it’s the attachment between parent and child that’s adversely affected.

Given that a higher percentage of kids with ADHD are adopted than in the general population, parent-child attachment can already be a challenge. It seems highly plausible that spanking an adopted child who has ADHD might further complicate the chances for successful parent-child bonding.

5. Bad behavior decreases when spanking decreases

Would the time I led my cousins to play on a forbidden railway track where we found a dead kitten count?

When parents in more than 500 families were trained to reduce their use of physical punishment, the difficult behaviors of their children also declined, according to a study cited by Durrant and Ensom (2012).

As far as I know, this study was not directed toward kids with ADHD, and I’m not sure what specific behaviors are referred to when they say “difficult.” (Would, for example, the time I led my cousins to play on a forbidden railway track where we found a dead kitten count? Yes? No? Never mind…)

Taking all the research into consideration, this finding may hold true for ADHD kids too. I’d be willing to hypothesize that it would. (Any takers with expertise and research funding willing to put my hypothesis to the test?)

6. An out-of-control child will feel even more powerless if spanked

Low says that parents may resort to spanking when they feel a lack of power or control over their child’s behavior.

But what about how the child feels?

As a child, I experienced the horrifying feeling of being unable to control my behavior, while simultaneously knowing I’d be punished for it. Being spanked sealed the deal for me to buy into my own sense of being powerless.

There’s a less obvious consequence of teaching a child that losing control leads to pain. Like a curious rat zapped in a Skinner box, wouldn’t that child also be at risk of becoming a rigid control freak, afraid of spontaneity? Possibly.

It took decades for me to let go enough to be able to jump up spontaneously and dance, all by myself – in public – just because I felt like it.

7. Sibling differences are highlighted

Often, not all children in a family have ADHD. Maybe it’s because some kids are adopted while others aren’t, or maybe it’s the luck of the draw.

Whatever the reason, the child with ADHD is already at a disadvantage. They’re (necessarily) singled out for ADHD treatment and at risk for feeling shame or lower self-esteem because of their different needs. If that child is also being spanked and a sibling isn’t, this is a recipe for resentment, anger, and further erosion of self-esteem.

Just say no to spanking

It’s been more than 20 years since Canada ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which calls for the elimination of all forms of violence against children, including physical punishment.

Based on an extensive research review, CHEO (a Canadian pediatric health and research center) published The Joint Statement on Physical Punishment of Children and Youth, developed by a coalition and endorsed by 472 organizations to date. It states:

“The evidence is clear and compelling – physical punishment of children and youth plays no useful role in their upbringing and poses only risks to their development.”

So unless you’re consenting adults with a spanking fetish, just say no to spanking, ‘k?


1. Durrant, Joan and Ensom, Ron. (2012). Physical punishment of children: lessons from 20 years of research. Canadian Medical Association Journal, DOI:10.1503/cmaj.101314, p. 1


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Spanking Hurts ADHD Kids More Than You Think, Part II

Zoë Kessler, BA, B.Ed.

Zoë Kessler is an award-winning author, journalist, and speaker specializing in women and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD / ADD).

A frequent contributor to ADDitude Magazine, Kessler has also created video, standup comedy, and guest blogs on ADHD and Marriage covering ADHD-related topics.

Zoë, an internationally recognized ADHD expert, has been interviewed on radio and featured in magazine articles, documentaries, and books on the topic of women and ADHD across North America.

Her newly-released memoir ADHD According to Zoë - The Real Deal on relationships, Finding Your Focus & Finding Your Keys (New Harbinger Publications, 2013) about life with ADHD is now available.

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APA Reference
Kessler, Z. (2013). Spanking Hurts ADHD Kids More Than You Think, Part II. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 14, 2019, from


Last updated: 11 Apr 2013
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