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Think spanking a child is sometimes necessary? It may actually do more harm than good

American Academy of Pediatrics says corporal punishment can make kids more defiant and aggressive

defiant child
While corporal punishment is on the decline in the U.S., a Harris Interactive poll found about 70 percent of parents still believe a "good, hard spanking is sometimes necessary to discipline a child." Photo illustration
Helen Adams | | November 6, 2018

Spanking kids makes it more, not less, likely that they’ll be defiant and aggressive in the future. That eye-opening assessment is part of a new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics. The AAP released “Effective discipline to raise healthy children” at its conference in Florida. 

MUSC Health pediatrician Elizabeth Mack, an AAP spokeswoman, is at the conference. She said in a phone interview that parents need to realize their actions have a lasting impact. “We need to avoid the cycle of violence. Spanking or other corporal punishment, even shaming or verbal abuse, can have lasting effects. That carries forward through their childhood and adult experiences in many ways.”
The AAP report’s findings include:
  • The repeated use of corporal punishment can lead to aggressive behavior and fights between child and parent. 
  • Corporal punishment can increase the risk of mental health problems.
  • Spanking can lead to problems that are similar to the results of physical abuse.
  • Harsh verbal abuse can lead to behavioral problems and depression.
So what should parents do? First, Mack said, come up with a plan for handling discipline. That way, when they’re in the heat of the moment with a misbehaving child, they don’t feel like they have to resort to spanking or verbal abuse. “It’s kind of like you would think about what you would do if your house caught fire. What does your fire safety plan look like?”
Parents also need to realize when they’re reaching the end of their rope, she said. “That way, it’s not a surprise and you have a little bit of mental preparation time. You may want to take a step away, and if there is another parent in the picture or another authority figure, allow somebody else to manage the discipline for that moment. Consider a timeout. Know your limits. We are all tested.”
Here are some healthy discipline strategies from the American Academy of Pediatrics. 
  • Model behaviors you would like to see.
  • Set clear and consistent rules. 
  • Calmly explain consequences. 
  • Let your child finish an explanation before jumping in to solve the problem. 
  • Watch for patterns of misbehavior and talk about them with your child.
  • Give the child your attention, which can reinforce good behaviors and discourage others.
  • Catch kids being good and praise them for it.
  • Ignore bad behavior that’s not dangerous, which can stop the behavior and teach natural consequences.
  • Plan for situations when your child might have trouble behaving, and make clear the type of behavior you want.
  • Redirect bad behavior. 
  • Call a timeout. 
But saying goodbye to spanking may not be an easy sell. A recent poll found 65 percent of Americans approve of spanking kids, and in the South the percentage rises to 73 percent.
Mack knows adopting healthier discipline strategies is easier said than done. “I wish there were a magic button.”
But it’s worth the effort, she said. “It’s important for people to talk to their pediatricians about discipline, and I think it’s important for pediatricians to bring it up. We all know we’re going to be faced with it at some point.”

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