Pediatricians: Spanking Children As Punishment Causes Harm

Desiree Burns
November 6, 2018

"Aversive disciplinary strategies, including all forms of corporal punishment and yelling at or shaming children, are minimally effective in the short-term and not effective in the long-term", the American Academy of Pediatrics wrote in a policy statement on Monday, which updated its guidance on corporal punishment for the first time since 1998.

The group, which represents about 67,000 doctors, also recommended that paediatricians advise parents against the use of spanking and said to avoid using nonphysical punishment that is humiliating, scary or threatening.

Corporal punishment is harmful and ineffective, America's peak pediatrics group said in its updated guidelines. The group cites a study which found that children who were spanked more than twice a month at age 3 were more aggressive when they were 5. By age 9, the negative effects of spanking were still evident, the findings showed.

The academy's parenting website, HealthyChildren.org, offers tips for disciplining younger and older children, such as using timeouts and establishing a clear relationship between behaviour and consequences.

Effective discipline involves practicing empathy and "understanding how to treat your child in different stages in development to teach them how to cool down when things do get explosive", said Dr Vincent J Palusci, a child abuse paediatrician at Hassenfeld Children's Hospital at NYU Langone.

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According to policy statement co-author Dr. Benjamin Siegel, "It's best to begin with the premise of rewarding positive behavior. The key is to be consistent in following through with them".

The statement goes on to describe how several studies have found associations between spanking and aggressive child behavior, depressive symptoms in adolescence and less gray matter in children's brains, among other outcomes. We know that children grow and develop better with positive role modeling and by setting healthy limits.

"What we talk to parents about is paying attention to your child's good behavior and paying less attention when they're misbehaving", Sege said.

The academy recommends that pediatricians use office visits to help parents with age-appropriate strategies for handling their child's discipline. It will also be published online November 5 in Pediatrics.

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