Physical Punishment of Children and Youth

“Violence begets violence. We know that a child experiencing abuse is more likely to see violence as normal, even acceptable… and more likely to perpetuate violence against his or her own children in the future.”
– UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake1
Children are persons in formation. As such, they continually challenge parents as they explore and learn during the normal phases of growing up. According to child psychiatrist Daniel Siegel, “parents’ responses shape the development of children’s capacity to regulate their states of mind and shifts in emotions.”2 Siegel affirms that when a child feels mad, sad, or scared, the brain chemistry involved actually acts to prevent learning. Therefore, discipline that fosters fear, anger, or sadness is counter-productive. It will not lead to constructive learning.
Statement on Physical Punishment of Children and Youth
In 2013, CFSC was asked to endorse a Joint Statement on Physical Punishment of Children and Youth, which was developed by a national partnership of Canadian organizations concerned with the well-being of children and their families.
A 2014 United Nations study on violence against children found that almost a billion (6 in 10) children between the ages of 2 and 14 worldwide are subjected to physical punishment by their caregivers on a regular basis. The study also found about 3 in 10 adults believe physical punishment is necessary to raise or educate children.3
The Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Canada is a party, guarantees children’s protection from all forms of violence, including physical punishment. It also recognizes children’s rights to respect and dignity.
Why is the Joint Statement necessary?
Unfortunately, Section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada says “every schoolteacher, parent or person standing in the place of a parent is justified in using force by way of correction toward a pupil or child, as the case may be, who is under his care, if the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances.”4
The UN has recommended that Canada change Section 43 in favour of legislation that would prohibit all forms of violence against children, however light.
It is now widely understood that the effects of violence in early childhood can have a lifelong negative impact on children’s future productivity and ability to form relationships. Harvard University’s Centre on the Developing Child states that the more adverse experiences in childhood, the greater the likelihood of developmental delays and later health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, substance abuse, and depression.5
Physical punishment also increases the risk of physical harm. “The more strongly caregivers approve of physical punishment, the more harshly they administer it. And the more often caregivers use even mild physical punishment, the more likely they are to inflict severe violence.”6
Physical punishment damages relationships. It leads to poor child mental health and is associated with increased levels of aggression, delinquency, and antisocial behaviour. It can lead to adult antisocial behaviour, poor adult mental health, and greater tolerance of violence. Physical punishment is frequently carried forward to the next generation of children.
Global research on physical punishment of children and youth has identified no positive long-term developmental outcomes.7
What does physical punishment teach children?
According to Joan Durrant, Child-Clinical Psychologist and Associate Professor at the University of Manitoba, physical punishment teaches children,
“that we communicate important things through hitting; that hitting is an acceptable response to anger; that the people who they depend on to protect them will hurt them; that they should fear their parents, rather than trusting them to help and to teach; and that their home is an unsafe place for learning and exploration.”8
Why has CFSC endorsed the Statement?
CFSC endorsed the Joint Statement in 2013 because we find physical punishment of children and youth to be incompatible with our belief that there is that of God in every person, and with our rejection of violence as acceptable behaviour.
This Statement contributes to the public education needed to inform and support parents and other caregivers to learn and use positive approaches to discipline.
Further resources
In addition to the sources cited in this article you may be interested in the following helpful resources:

Sarah Chandler is a member of Interior BC Quakers Monthly Meeting, Lillooet Worship Group. Sarah served on CFSC for several terms, working on Indigenous Peoples’ human rights and criminal justice matters, and continues to serve as an associate member. Having experienced much physical punishment in childhood, she is a passionate advocate for its elimination.

  1. Lake, Anthony. Opening remarks at UNICEF Executive Board, 4 February 2014, Quoted in UNICEF. “Ending Violence Against Children: Six Strategies for Action.” New York, September 2014, p. 6
  2. Siegel, Daniel. “The Developing Mind: How relationships and the brain interact to shape who we are.” Guilford, 1999, p. 282
  3. UNICEF. “Ending Violence Against Children.” p. 7.
  4. “Criminal Code,” 1985,
  5. “Centre on the Developing Child.” Harvard University,
  6. Vasta R. “Physical child abuse. A dual-component analysis.” Quoted in Coalition on Physical Punishment of Children and Youth. “Joint Statement on Physical Punishment of Children and Youth.”
  7. ibid.
  8. Durrant, Joan. “Positive Discipline in Everyday Parenting.” Save the Children Sweden, 2016.