Spanking has never been and will never be a good idea, as a recent study published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), confirms. When you spank a child, you risk long-term physical and emotional harm. While parents are well within their rights to discipline young children, physical punishment, including spanking, is found to increase aggression in a child over the long term.
The results of this study are important. Frequent use of corporate punishment (such as the mother’s use of spanking more than twice in the previous month) when the child was 3 years of age was associated with increased risk for higher levels of child aggression when the child reached 5 years of age. In addition, even minor forms of corporal punishment, such as spanking, increase the risk of heightened, child aggressive behavior. This study, along with others, begs the question: why take the risk? Aren’t there better ways of guiding a child’s behavior?
American Academy of Pediatrics Does Not Support Spanking Children
According to AAP, it is within the context of the family that a young child learns personal values and social behavior. The family provides a structure for learning self-discipline and helps children learn codes of conduct that will guide them for the rest of their lives. The family, more so than school, sports and other environments, provides an over-arching framework for for a child to develop positive, interpersonal relationships.
As such, AAP does not recommend spanking. Instead, AAP and its member pediatricians have warned families and the public about the harm that can result from corporal punishment. Physical punishment, including, spanking increases aggression and anger instead of promoting responsibility. It can lead to physical struggles and can escalate, harming the child. While spanking may seem to “work” at the beginning, like other forms of physical punishment, it loses its effectiveness with children over time. Spanking, according to AAP, is an all-around, ill-advised form of parental discipline.
The Fragile Families and Child Well Being Study
The Fragile Families and Child Well Being Study hasn’t told us anything we didn’t already know: that physical punishment, including spanking, hurts children tremendously and can even make children more aggressive. Yet, some parents, educators and other adults remain unconvinced, mostly because generations of adults suffered through spanking and other punishments and seem to function unscathed. The Fragile Families and Child Well Being Study tells quite another another story.
Better forms of discipline
There are so many ways to guide a child’s behavior and make them responsible. Discipline, of course, should always be the last – not the first – resort. When applying discipline, parents need to think about what’s age-appropriate in terms of holding a child accountable. AAP suggests that parents consider the following:
Allow a child to learn from natural consequences. This is an easy way to teach a child self-control, so long as the child is not exposed to physical or mental harm. For example, if a child does not turn in his or her homework on time, she’ll receive a bad grade from the teacher.
Allow a child to learn from a reasonable consequence. Being too harsh, too often, makes a child resentful. Parents need to determine what’s reasonable and fair as a punishment.
Withhold privileges from the child. When children are quite young, this might mean taking away toys. As children grow older, the things kids care about changes. Parents may forbid a child from going out with friends or withhold a prized, high tech gadget like an iPod or cell phone.
Call for a time-out with youngsters and set reasonable time period. This strategy works well with children ages 2 to 5, and should be discontinued after that time. Set reasonable time periods that are age appropriate.
It’s always important for parents and other adults to be reasonable and consistent. In no circumstance should a parent or any adult strike or spank a child. When parents and other adults spank children, children become resentful and, according to the Fragile Families and Child Well Being Study, aggressive over time.
Carrots work just as well, if not better, than sticks
Too often, in the heat of the moment, parents and other adults may forget the real value of incentives and rewards. Too often parents and other adults believe that these have the effect of “buying off” the child or going soft on discipline. Yet, studies show that both young and old respond well to positive reinforcement.
Indeed, a little bit of praise and positive reinforcement goes a long way with most people, including kids. Something to think about, don’t you agree?
Discipline and Your Child
Healthy Children, American Academy of Pediatrics
Spare the Rod, Calm the Child
Keith Brannon April 2010
Mothers’ Spanking of 3-Year-Old Children and Subsequent Risk of Children’s Aggressive Behavior
By Catherine A. Taylor, PhD, MSW, MPH et al in PEDIATRICS, May 2010
Five Tips for Guiding Children’s Behavior
National Network for Child Care