Why the AAP and doctors warn parents against spanking
Mention spanking to any group of parents and you are likely to get a full spectrum of responses. But no matter how parents were disciplined in their childhood, there is good evidence now that spanking is not the answer.
The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a clear policy statement in late 2018 that opposes corporal punishment: “Parents and other adult caregivers should use effective discipline strategies for children that do not involve spanking, other forms of corporal punishment or verbal shaming.” The AAP defines corporal punishment as the “non-injurious, open handed hitting with the intention of modifying child behavior.” This is distinct from child abuse.
Nancy Henderson, a Greenville Health System pediatrician who specializes in child abuse, said the new statement reflects what studies have shown since the AAP encouraged alternatives to corporal punishment in 1998.
“Back then we said ‘you should,’ now, you really need to,” she said. “Corporal punishment is not good for children and there are other ways to parent.”
Henderson said discipline should be an instructive tool. Hitting – whether spanking or “popping” a child’s hand – isn’t the answer.
“Hitting hurts,” Henderson said. “Parents have not equated spanking or popping as hitting, but it really is all the same. There is a spectrum where corporal punishment is physical abuse.”
“Popping” is often seen as different from spanking.
“It is hard to explain it to people,” Henderson said. “Who wants to be hit in any way? No one wants that to happen to them. A pop hurts and you’re doing it to hurt.”
Henderson said corporal punishment can cause aggression, does not instruct children in appropriate behavior and does not open communication between parents and children – which is supported by the evidence cited by the AAP.
“If that’s the only way we know how to communicate and control, that’s what we use,” Henderson said.
Proponents of corporal punishment will sometimes use the argument that they were spanked and they turned out just fine.
“Everybody that smokes isn’t going to get cancer,” Henderson said. “You can be lucky. Now that you know, are you willing to take that risk? It is every parent’s decision to make, but now that you know, are you still willing to do that? Why not (use) this that we know is better?”
To that end, Henderson is encouraging parents to attend the free Positive Parenting Program, offered by the Julie Valentine Center in Greenville County. The program will give the state a model for use in other counties. PPP is an effective, evidence-based parenting program that offers simple, practical strategies to help parents manage their child’s behavior and promote positive development and strong relationships.
“It’s an interactive way to have parents learn how to discipline in a positive way,” Henderson said. “PPP is definitely parent-driven. They decide what behaviors are most frustrating for them.”
The program helps parents develop ways to interact with their child to alter that behavior.
“This is not an easy issue, but parenting is not an easy issue,” Henderson said. “Everything else we get comes with a huge guide book, a 24-hour hot line.”