Why Spanking Children Is Never OK, According to a Pediatrician

You may have heard the old expression, “Spare the rod spoil the child;” but here’s the thing: There is no truth to that saying. I don’t spank my children. I don’t believe in spanking children to discipline them, and I NEVER recommend spanking as a method of discipline to the parents whose children I treat as a pediatrician. I am aware that not all child experts agree with me; however, my advice to parents is to avoid physical punishment in all situations. Let’s explore why.

1. Spanking is not an effective discipline strategy. When a child acts out, and is disciplined by spanking, the bad behavior may stop right then, but the child will likely act out in the same way again, since spanking does not teach him how to act appropriately. In fact, the negative reinforcement provided by spanking may actually make his behavior worse. Rather than spank your child for attempting to cross the street without you, for example, stop him and tell him that he needs to hold your hand. If your child stops and holds your hand the next time you need to cross the street, praise him. Try saying, “I’m so proud of you for holding my hand. You did a really great job of being safe!” Praise and positive reinforcement are very strong motivators.

2. Spanking does not teach children how to deal well with conflict. In fact, studies show that children who are hit are more likely to hit other children when conflicts arise. Since conflict is a natural part of life (from the playground as children to work as adults), it’s important to teach kids early on how to resolve conflicts without hitting others. By disciplining your child in a way that isn’t physical, you are reinforcing that lesson and modeling a better way to solve disputes.

3. Long-term spanking has negative effects on children.  Multiple studies have found that physical punishment increases the risk of negative developmental outcomes, such as learning delays, psychological disorders, and somatic disorders. 

4. The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly opposes spanking. The AAP’s official statement on spanking is pretty clear: “Spanking is never recommended; infants may be physically harmed by a parent who strikes a child.” They add that “corporal punishment is of limited effectiveness and has potentially deleterious side effects,” and recommend that “parents be encouraged and assisted in the development of methods other than spanking for managing undesired behavior.” In simple terms: Find alternatives to physical punishment when you need to discipline your child.

5. Spanking can instill feelings of shame in children, because it’s embarrassing. Additionally, some studies have linked physical punishment to increases in mood disorders, anxiety disorders, aggressive behaviors, and substance abuse.

My advice to parents is to avoid physical punishment in all situations. Aside from the potential for negative consequences, there are far more effective ways to discipline your children; two discipline methods that I like are 1-2-3 Magic and The Kazdin Method. Good luck!

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