Pediatricians’ Group Takes Strong Stance against Spanking, Yelling at Children
AAP releases updated guidelines on corporal punishment
Parents should not spank, hit, slap, threaten, insult, humiliate or shame to discipline their children.
Those recommendations are based on the latest research from the American Academy of Pediatrics. The organization, which represents about 67,000 pediatricians from across the nation, will release its findings in the AAP’s own journal Pediatrics in the December issue.
The AAP’s revised policy cites new evidence linking “corporal punishment” to an increased risk of negative behavioral, cognitive, psychosocial and emotional outcomes for children. In the updated policy, the AAP defines corporal punishment as the “non-injurious, open handed hitting with the intention of modifying child behavior.” Defined this way, corporal punishment is distinct from child abuse.
The new guidelines from the AAP takes a much stronger stance on corporal punishment, as opposed to the previous “guidance on discipline” published in 1998 that recommended parents be “encouraged” not to spank.
“I hope this study helps parents look at why they discipline. The purpose for discipline should be to change a behavior for the long term, not punishment,” said Jamye Coffman, M.D., a child abuse pediatrician and medical director of the C.A.R.E team at Cook Children’s.
Along with spanking, the policy also addressed the harm associated with verbal punishment, such as shaming and humiliation.
“Research has shown that striking children, yelling at them or shaming can elevate stress hormones and lead to changes in the brain’s architecture,” a statement released from the AAP said. “Harsh verbal abuse also is linked to mental health problems in preteens and adolescents.”
Instead, the AAP encourages the reinforcement of appropriate behaviors, set limits, redirect children and set expectation.
“Punishment that shames or degrades a child is never OK,” Dr. Coffman said. “It can lead to anxiety, depression, and aggression in the future. It can also harm the parent/child relationship leading to a cycle of behavior problems.”
The study was conducted in the 20 largest U.S. cities. The research found that children who were spanked more than twice a month were more aggressive in the surveys that followed.
“Children who experience repeated use of corporal punishment tend to develop more aggressive behaviors, increased aggression in school, and an increased risk of mental health disorders and cognitive problems,” the AAP stated. “In cases where warm parenting practices occurred alongside corporal punishment, the link between harsh discipline and adolescent conduct disorder and depression remained.”
The research found it was not unusual for parents to spank their kids occasionally, certain factors increased the use of corporal punishment, including parents who suffer from depression and families facing economic challenges, mental health problems, intimate partner violence and substance abuse.
A key takeaway the AAP wants parents to know is that spanking can backfire and children who are spanked often become more aggressive in the long run.
Instead, the AAP recommends positive discipline strategies including:
- Time-outs. Removing children from the action can give everyone time to cool down and consider their behaviors.
- Natural consequences. As long as a child is not in danger, let him learn cause and effect. For example, a child who keeps tossing cookies on the floor will eventually have no cookies left.
- Logical consequences. Explain that actions have consequences. For example, if a child doesn’t pick up her toys (after being asked to), parents can explain that they will take the toys away for the rest of day. The key to this technique is prompt follow through.
More information from the AAP
Get to know Jamye Coffman, M.D.
Jamye Coffman, M.D., is the medical director for The Center for Prevention of Child Maltreatment and the Cook Children's Advocacy Resources and Evaluation (CARE) Team. Led by pediatricians who are board-certified in child abuse medicine, the Cook Children's Child Advocacy Resources and Evaluation (CARE) team provides medical evaluations, psychosocial assessments and preventive education. Most CARE team examinations are conducted following a referral from Child Protective Services, a law enforcement agency or a medical provider.
To report abuse, neglect or exploitation, please contact the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services at 1-800-252-5400. If the child is in immediate danger, call 911.