The nation’s leading pediatricians group is hardening its stance against spanking and other physical punishment against children. In its strongest policy statement ever, the American of Pediatrics (AAP) is calling for a ban on spanking, saying it doesn’t work in changing a child’s behavior and it can have a negative impact on their developing brains.
“Essentially, the policy statement points out that spanking or hitting our kids may make them fearful in the short run and in the long run, it does not improve their behavior and can actually makes them more aggressive,” says Dr. Pilar Bradshaw.
The impact of physical punishment on the brain
The AAP cites dozens of studies published in the past two decades supporting its belief and linking physical punishment in childhood with later brain changes in young adults, including elevated levels of stress hormones.
“The anticipation of being spanked causes kids to have big hormone increases in their fight or flight response, and it scares them,” says Jamie Pleich, a mental health therapist with Thrive Behavioral Health. She says it’s important to consider the reasons behind a child’s behavior and why they’re acting out. “Emotionally, kids don’t always have the words to express how they’re feeling, so they demonstrate their emotions by acting out behaviors, especially when they’re young.”
Healthy forms of effective discipline
Discipline is important; it’s how parents teach children right from wrong. However, there are healthier ways for parents to discipline kids that teach children responsibility and self-control, such as using positive reinforcement, setting limits and making future expectations clear. In addition, there is value in allowing children to experience the natural consequences of their decisions.
“For example, if your kid threw their blocks at their sibling, those blocks should be taken away for a specific amount of time. If you have a teenager who gets a reckless driving ticket, the car keys are taken away. That’s a natural consequence that fits those scenarios,” says Dr. Bradshaw.
How to respond to negative behavior
When your child acts out or misbehaves, walk away until you are calm enough to deal with the situation rationally. Discipline leveled in anger is not only dangerous, it is ineffective.
“I tell parents, ‘You’re just not going to accomplish anything good in the heat of the moment,'” says Dr. Bradshaw. “It takes about 20-30 minutes for adrenaline to dissipate. Adrenaline spikes when you are angry and, not only blocks your kid’s ability to process what you’re saying because they are scared, it blocks your ability to be rational. So, all you’re doing by spanking your child is teaching them that their role model hits, and that’s been shown to make kids more likely to hit other people.”
Help your child understand what they did was wrong, why it’s not OK; and help them learn from logical consequences. “For example, ‘If throw things, I’m going to timeout. If I work through this, then I can move on.'” Jamie says.
Give your children a chance to redeem themselves, and be sure to recognize and praise positive behavior immediately.
“Praise releases positive chemicals in your kid’s brain,” Dr. Bradshaw says. “They want you to be happy with them. Using a lot of praise can help establish the behavior you want to see.”