Please don’t Spank Your Child for the Holidays!

Nov 25, 2019, 09:54 AM by Natalie Royer MD and Trish Beach MD


“Parents, other caregivers, and adults interacting with children and adolescents should not use corporal punishment (including hitting and spanking), either in anger or as a punishment for or consequence of misbehavior, nor should they use any disciplinary strategy, including verbal abuse, that causes shame or humiliation.”--
From the AAP Policy Statement “Effective Discipline to Raise Healthy Children”, published February 2019.

Several studies have shown that corporal punishment is ineffective in correcting behaviors in the long-term.  For example, one study showed that after a child was spanked, 73% continued to demonstrate the behavior for which they were disciplined within 10 minutes.  Spanking has also been shown to cause adverse outcomes in children during childhood and later in life. 

Corporal punishment in children <18 months increases the likelihood of physical injury.  Repeated spanking may lead to aggressive behavior and can cause conflicts between parents and children that compromise their emotional attachment.  Spanking is associated with increased aggression in preschool and school-aged children.  Corporal punishment makes it more likely that children will be defiant and aggressive in the future.

Spanking during childhood is associated with an increased risk of mental health disorders and problems with thinking and reasoning. 

Spanking tends to escalate and may reach the threshold for harsh physical abuse because parents become frustrated with their increasingly oppositional child.  One study showed that it takes an average of 8 hits to change a behavior, but other studies show that this temporary compliance may have unintended adverse effects on the relationship and on the long term physical and emotional health of the child. 

Society is becoming increasingly aware of the impact of adverse childhood events on future physical and mental health.  A recent study of adults whose only “adverse event” was spanking were found to be at increased risk of adverse health outcomes such as diabetes, cancer, and substance use disorder, and these outcomes are similar to those in children who experienced physical abuse.

So if you should not spank your child, what should you do?  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using positive reinforcement, setting limits and clear expectations, use of time out, loss of privileges as strategies for discipline.  Remember that every punishment, no matter how mild, is a learning experience.  One trip to Time Out for 1 hour is likely to result in repeat infractions spanning much of the hour.  One trip to time out for 3 minutes can be repeated 20 times in an hour and that is 20 learning experiences.  Hopefully just 2-3 trips, administered calmly, will be all it takes! Similarly, loss of a tablet or phone for 30-60 minutes can be a very convincing experience, but loss of a phone for 2 weeks will be miserable for everyone involved!

The holidays are often stressful for parents.  This year give your child hugs, not hits, and enjoy the extra time you can spend with them! 

Article and commentary by Natalie Royer MD and Trish Beach MD

Also see:  General Academic Pediatrics at UTMB Health Pediatrics

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