Parents should not spank their children, the American Academy of Pediatrics said Monday in its most strongly worded policy statement warning against the harmful effects of corporal punishment in the home.
The group, which represents about 67,000 doctors, also recommended that paediatricians advise parents against the use of spanking and said to avoid using nonphysical punishment that is humiliating, scary or threatening.
“One of the most important relationships we all have is the relationship between ourselves and our parents, and it makes sense to eliminate or limit fear and violence in that loving relationship,” said Dr Robert D Sege, a paediatrician at Tufts Medical Center and the Floating Hospital for Children in Boston, and one of the authors of the statement.
The academys new policy, which will be published in the December issue of the journal Pediatrics, updates 20-year-old guidance on discipline that recommended parents be “encouraged” not to spank. The organisations latest statement stems from a body of research that was unavailable two decades ago.
A 2016 analysis of multiple studies, for example, found that children do not benefit from spanking.
“Certainly you can get a childs attention, but its not an effective strategy to teach right from wrong,” Sege said.
Recent studies have also shown that corporal punishment is associated with increased aggression and makes it more likely that children will be defiant in the future.
There are potential ramifications to the brain as well: A 2009 study of 23 young adults who had repeated exposure to harsh corporal punishment found reduced grey matter volume in an area of the prefrontal cortex that is believed to play a crucial role in social cognition. Those exposed to harsh punishment also had a lower performance IQ than that of a control group.
So what is the best way to discipline children? That largely depends on the age and temperament of the child, experts say.
Effective discipline involves practicing empathy and “understanding how to treat your child in different stages in development to teach them how to cool down when things do get explosive,” said Dr Vincent J Palusci, a child abuse paediatrician at Hassenfeld Childrens Hospital at NYU Langone.
The academys parenting website, HealthyChildren.org, offers tips for disciplining younger and older children. Rewarding positive behaviour, using timeouts and establishing a clear relationship between behaviour and consequences can all be effective strategies.