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Spanking: The AAP has Stated It Doesn’t Work and Makes Matters Worse

By Dr. Arthur Lavin

Spanking is one of those things that make everyone wonder, does it help?  It seems to hurt, but maybe it does some good?  But it sure seems painful, maybe it does more harm than good?  Even if it is not helpful, so many parents do it, maybe it is fine if one happens to spank, or is it harmful?

The answer has been available for some time now, and the answer is very clear:

  1. Spanking does not work.
  2. Spanking can do harm.

These answers will become official policy of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) when its updated policy on discipline in children is published in its journal Pediatrics on December 1, 2018.

The policy statement was a revision of an earlier AAP policy on the issue of Discipline and the new revision was written by the lead authors, Dr. Robert Sege and Dr. Benjamin Siegel, and is the product of the work of the committee of the AAP that I now chair.

Coverage from the AAP pre-publication release is available at this link:  https://nyti.ms/2ySb8Hr.  The full report from the AAP will be available to the public when it is published in the official journal of the AAP, Pediatrics, on December 1, 2018.

The Essence of Discipline

The AAP paper on discipline makes clear once more that at the heart of discipline is teaching.   There is little controversy on this point.  Nearly all societies seek to discipline their children with one purpose in mind:  to establish rules that help define behaviors that allow each person to be safe and not hurt others.

Where controversy erupts is when different people, and especially cultures, disagree on what approaches work best to see a child actually adopt the society’s rules of behavior.

Two great traditions of discipline are seen across all of human experience.

The first has to do with where the word discipline itself comes from, it has the same root as the word disciple, a Latin word meaning to teach.

Is there any village or culture in human history that did not teach its children?  No.  Teaching is the heart and soul of discipline.  Teaching proposes that if a child learns a rule, that’s the best way to have them observe it.

The other tradition is about punishment.  Punishment claims that if a child fears a rule, then that is the best way to have them observe it.

Teaching or Punishment, Which Works Best?

Almost everyone has at least one opinion on this question, but the AAP went to the trouble of searching the medical literature to see what actually happens when children are taught, and what happens when children are punished.

Some will be surprised, some will be reassured, but either way, the facts are very clear.

Punishment fails tremendously to change child behavior.  If a rule is presented to a child by punishing language, or by being hit (spanked), the subject shifts quickly to the anger the child feels and the trauma they must manage.  The rule turns out to be forgotten, and what is left is not better behavior, but a child traumatized.

Teaching works splendidly.  When a child is supported to explore better solutions to difficult situations and challenges, they take on the rule as their own, they think about the rule, and they are far more likely to adopt the rule, to follow it, to change their behavior.

BOTTOM LINES

  1. Every child born challenges the rules of the culture they are born into, primarily by testing their parents, by pushing against their limits.
  2. Spanking clearly fails in two big ways.  It fails to have the child follow the rule, and worse, it creates a trauma that can cause long-term harm to the child.  The same goes for any harmful and hurtful physical punishments and language.  There is no justification to use cruelty, to use spanking with any child.
  3. The heart of good discipline is with teaching.  Giving your child the opportunity to figure out their solution to the challenge leads to actual changes in behavior.

We welcome the clarity of this new statement on Discipline from the American Academy of Pediatrics

To your health,
Dr. Arthur Lavin

 

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