Smacking children as punishment is ineffective at addressing bad behaviour and actually makes them more aggressive, a study has found. 

Scientists from University College London (UCL) analysed 69 studies on the topic to determine the benefits and downsides of the increasingly outdated practice. 

Caregivers are now forbidden from striking children in 62 countries, including Scotland and Wales. England and Northern Ireland have yet to prohibit the sanction. 

In the US, it is legal in all 50 states for parents to use physical punishment.

Dr Anja Heilmann, lead author of the study from UCL, said: “Physical punishment is ineffective and harmful, and has no benefits for children and their families. This could not be clearer from the evidence we present.

“We see a definitive link between physical punishment and behavioural problems such as aggression and antisocial behaviour. 

“Physical punishment consistently predicts increases in these types of behavioural difficulties.” 

The findings, published in the Lancet, include a 2014 study from the University of Glasgow which was the only study of the 69 to focus specifically on Britons. 

“The UK study found that children exposed to hitting in the first two years of their lives were more than twice as likely to have emotional and behavioural problems at age four than children who were never hit,” the researchers told The Telegraph. 

“Another study from the US reported a similar effect size: compared to never spanked, children spanked more than twice a month by one parent at age three were 40 per cent more likely to have higher levels of aggression at age five; children spanked by both parents were twice as likely to have higher level of aggression.”

Professor Elizabeth Gershoff, from the University of Texas in Austin, added: “Parents use physical punishment with their children because they think doing so will lead to better behaviour. 

“But our research found clear and compelling evidence that physical punishment does not improve children’s behaviour and instead makes it worse.”

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Joanna Barrett, the NSPCC’s associate head of policy, said: “This is yet another significant study that shows physical punishment is harmful to children.

“It cannot be right that in 2021 children are the only group in society that it is legally acceptable to assault in England. The case for reform is beyond doubt.

“With legal change already in Scotland and Wales, Westminster is behind the curve on this issue and urgently needs to make sure children in England have the same protection as those in other parts of the UK.

“We believe all children should be able to grow up free from violence. Changing the law on physical punishment is a vital step towards achieving this.”