While sharing the new guidelines for effective discipline, AAP revealed the terrible effects of corporal punishment and how it can compromise a child's mental health.
Attitudes toward disciplining children across the world and in different cultures are very varied, with spanking as a form of punishment still being widely used, even in the United States, despite increasing evidence that spanking can cause more harm than good. Parents are often unaware of how to discipline their kids, and so they resort to cruel methods of corporal punishment that end up affecting their children's normal brain development, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
In its new guidelines on "Effective Discipline to Raise Healthy Children," the AAP rejected spanking and corporal punishment in general as ineffective methods of disciplining children. They went on to cite other methods that are much safer, and much more effective at instilling a sense of responsibility and self-control in children. In fact, even verbal forms of punishment like belittling or humiliating were rejected, not just because they were found to be rather unhelpful but actually quite harmful to the child's psyche in the long run.
Robert D. Sege, MD, PhD, one of the authors of the AAP's new policy statement and a former member of the AAP Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect, revealed "The good news is, fewer parents support the use of spanking than they did in the past. Yet corporal punishment remains legal in many states, despite evidence that it harms kids - not only physically and mentally, but in how they perform at school and how they interact with other children."
While corporal or verbal punishment may instill fear in a child, this fear is short-lived, and in the long run, the child may actually become more and more aggressive.
The AAP cited research that discovered that children who had been spanked more than twice a month when they were 3 turned out more aggressive than their peers at age 5. At age 9, these children continued to demonstrate negative behavior and had lower receptive vocabulary scores. According to the AAP, studies have demonstrated that hitting a child, humiliating them, or yelling at them can raise levels of stress hormones and cause their brain architecture to change.
Preteens and adolescents have been found to experience mental health issues as a direct result of harsh verbal abuse. And this could only get worse as they grow older, possibly affecting other areas of their life well into adulthood. Effective disciplinary methods would promote calm and controlled behavior among children instead of aggression and various other developmental issues.
Benjamin S. Siegel, MD, FAAP, co-author of the new AAP guidelines, said, "It's best to begin with the premise of rewarding positive behavior. Parents can set up rules and expectations in advance. The key is to be consistent in following through with them." According to the AAP, pediatricians could help parents visiting their office to identify age-appropriate ways of disciplining their children. Pediatricians could also help families access community resources if they need more targeted help with their children.
The policy statement released by the AAP includes resources that educate parents and physicians about effective and healthy methods of disciplines, including redirecting, determining limits, and setting expectations. The AAP has also long been outspoken against corporal punishment in schools, and it addressed in 2000 in a separate policy statement. Dr. Sege said, "There's no benefit to spanking. We know that children grow and develop better with positive role modeling and by setting healthy limits. We can do better."