A policy statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published online earlier this week condemns the use of spanking as a discipline tool for children. It also deemed the practice harmful to children’s cognitive and behavioural development. The statement is also set to be published in December’s edition of Pediatrics.
The statement, titled “Effective Discipline to Raise Healthy Children”, also warns parents against the harms that can come from punishing children verbally by using measures such as humiliation and shaming. Instead, it encourages educating parents on other techniques that ensure safer and healthier development in children.
The AAP says that research evidence shows that disciplinary techniques involving physical and verbal punishments are ineffective in the long run. The reason is that while such techniques can cause children to temporarily their behaviour, they do so out of fear which is unlikely to last. In fact, the AAP says that these techniques could cause children to exhibit more aggression and can also negatively affect their brain development.
In fact, one study found that children who were spanked more than twice a month at age three show more aggression at age five. By age nine, those same children still showed negative behaviours and also had lower receptive vocabulary scores than their counterparts.
Other research also shows hitting, shaming or shouting can cause children’s bodies to release stress hormones that can alter their brain structure.
Plus, severe verbal abuse has also been found to impact preteen and teenage mental health.
What to do instead
One of the statement’s authors, Benjamin S. Siegel, MD, who is also a research fellow at the AAP (FAAP), says that parents are best off basing their discipline on the rewarding of positive behaviour. He adds that prior to that, they can set up clear rules and expectations. He also says that parents should be consistent when setting up these boundaries.
Another author, Robert D. Sege, MD, PhD, and a past member of AAP Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect concurs and says that boundary setting and positive behaviour modelling make for better growth and development in children, and that spanking isn’t beneficial.
The AAP also recommends that paediatricians step in and use appointments as opportunities to liaise with parents and discuss effective discipline methods.
By Tesneem Ayoub