AAP: Spanking increases aggression in young children and doesn't work in the long run

AAP: Spanking increases aggression in young children and doesn't work in the long run

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That's the message from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which today released an updated policy statement on how parents and other caregivers can effectively discipline children. It's not entirely new – the AAP has condemned spanking and encouraged non-aggressive approaches to discipline in the past. But this statement highlights why some forms of verbal discipline are harmful, too, and cites new research to support its position.

Effects of physical punishment on a child

Spanking and other forms of physical punishment, such as slapping or shaking, don't stop kids from misbehaving, studies show. In fact, evidence suggests physical punishment actually makes children more aggressive as they grow older and can increase kids' risk of mental health and substance use disorders in adulthood. It can also negatively impact children's performance at school.

Effects of harsh verbal discipline on a child

Verbal abuse can also be extremely harmful to kids, research indicates. Parents should refrain from yelling at children, shaming them, or humiliating them, the AAP said. Harsh verbal abuse as well as physical punishment can elevate stress hormones and change children's brains, studies show. It also damages kids' self-esteem and is associated with behavior problems and depression in teens.

Positive ways to discipline a child

Good discipline techniques teach kids how to properly regulate their behavior without causing them harm. The AAP recommends these positive ways to teach good behavior:

  • Praise good behavior. Watch for the good things your child does, or tries to do, such as listening to you, being polite, and helping others. By praising children for the good things they do, you'll teach them that being good, rather than misbehaving, is the best way to get your attention.
  • Set limits. When your child misbehaves, name the bad behavior and tell them to stop.
  • Use time-outs. If your child doesn't stop the behavior when you say no, try a time-out. This can help them realize they won't get attention by misbehaving.
  • Set clear rules and stick to them. Explain rules clearly to your child. They may try to test them at first, but stay firm.
  • Listen to your child. Spend time talking to your child about the good and difficult parts of their day. If they've had a tough time, let them tell the whole story. Then offer positive feedback and suggestions of better ways to behave or respond.
  • Take a break. If you feel yourself getting frustrated with your child, make sure they're in a safe place and then take your own "time-out" to calm down, such as by listening to music or calling a friend.

For more discipline suggestions, check out BabyCenter's behavior problems resource page and our discipline tool kit.

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