Creative Child

The AAP Takes a Stance Against Spanking

by Rebecca Eanes

The spanking debate rages on, except it’s not much of a debate anymore. The research is clear – spanking is harmful to child development. The American Academy of Pediatrics has taken a stand against corporal punishment, summarizing new evidence published in the last 20 years. It should be noted that the AAP defines corporal punishment as the “non-injurious, open handed hitting with the intention of modifying child behavior.” This definition makes it clear that we aren’t just talking about extreme cases of child abuse here, but the common practice of spanking as a form of discipline, and the AAP warns that it is harmful and is calling for its abolition.

Children who experience corporal punishment have been proven to be more aggressive and have an increased risk of mental health disorders and cognitive problems. Strikingly, even when warm parenting practices occurred alongside spanking, adolescent conduct disorder and depression remained, meaning that being a kind and loving parent when not administering a spanking didn’t save the child from its consequences. Some studies have noted a relationship between physical punishment and chronically high cortisol levels which could lead to lifelong negative health effects.

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Spanking may seem to work in the moment because it temporarily interrupts the bad behavior, but what’s happening in the child’s body and brain because of that spanking is significant and puts the child at substantial risk. In addition, spanking has been shown ineffective in the long term, so it’s really not worth the risk to a child’s mental and physical health.

Unfortunately, some parents still confuse the absence of spanking with an absence of discipline, claiming that by “sparing the rod,” children are allowed to get away with all sorts of bad conduct. In addition, there’s the argument that “I was spanked and turned out fine,” although it’s impossible to know the impact those spankings had on one’s developing brain and body and how that person might have “turned out” in the absence of such trauma. These perspectives keep parents locked in a negative cycle that is hard to break free from without proper guidance for effective discipline.

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In the Policy Statement issued by the AAP, they include yelling at and shaming children in their list of aversive disciplinary strategies along with corporal punishment. Yelling and shaming are also common strategies, with shaming techniques trending in a world of viral videos and short bursts of fame. So, what are the effective discipline strategies recommended?

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