Pediatricians Urge Parents To Choose 'Healthy' Discipline Over Spanking

child discipline spanking

How one chooses to discipline their child is often a controversial topic that can divide friends and relatives. Many are divided on the use of corporal punishment as an effective means of discipline, despite studies showing that kids who grow up in countries that ban corporal punishment are less violent. Although there are many who still advocate that corporal punishment and spanking are exactly what kids need "these days," the American Academy of Pediatrics is asking parents to instead use "healthy forms of discipline."

In a study posted in the journal Pediatrics, it found that "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." Not only did they find corporal punishment to not be an effective form of punishment, but studies have linked corporal punishment to "an increased risk of negative behavioral, cognitive, psychosocial, and emotional outcomes for children."

The study stated that US pediatricians don't endorse corporal punishment as an effective means of discipline, and only 6% of those doctors surveyed had a positive attitude towards spanking, while only 2.5% thought that there would be a positive change in behavior as a result of spanking. The study defines corporal punishment as "noninjurious, open-handed hitting with the intention of modifying child behavior," and includes spanking as a common method of corporal punishment.

The AAP's new statement is an update from a decade old policy that recommended "parents be encouraged and assisted in developing methods other than spanking in response to undesired behavior." Now the AAP is urging parents to choose alternative forms of discipline including positive reinforcement when the child exhibits appropriate behavior. They also suggest setting limits and expectations for children, and redirecting them when they misbehave. Spanking, hitting, slapping and any form of shaming or threatening should not be used to discipline children, the AAP recommends.

Corporal punishment isn't as popular as it used to be a method of disciplining children, or at least it's not as socially acceptable as it once was. In a 2004 survey as many as 2/3 of parents acknowledged they used some form of corporal punishment as discipline for their young children and that spanking was a socially acceptable form of discipline. A 2016 national survey found that attitudes on corporal punishment had shifted dramatically with the majority of parents not agreeing with corporal punishment at all.

Dr. Robert Sege, first author of the policy statement and a pediatrician at the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, told CNN that methods of punishment needs to be tailored to the child's age. For children under the age of 1, often the most you can do is simply remove the child from the scenario.  "The best thing to do is just pick them up and move them somewhere else, distract them, change the subject -- and that's usually all they need and they can handle it," Sege said.

The doctor recommends a time out system for preschoolers and toddlers, who often act out to earn attention. "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 doctor suggested that with older children, of the consequences of their misbehavior is often punishment enough. "So if they run out in the street, you don't want the natural consequence to be that they get run over by a car. But a natural consequence might be that they have to hold your hand when they're in the street or they can't go out on their own past a busy street until you've observed them always looking both ways."

Dr. Sege told the new station that a loving and trusting relationship between parent and child is the most important relationship in the family, and that relationship can be negatively effected if corporal punishment is used. Positive disciplinary measures benefit both the parent and child. "As a result, children are more likely to grow up feeling secure and positive, knowing how to regulate their own behavior."

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