Parenting is no walk in the park. But as far as the biggest trials and tribulations that come with raising kids, the biggest may revolve around discipline.
There are plenty of different approaches and tactics that parents might employ when it comes to promoting positive, acceptable behavior and discourage poor behavior. Some parents may go the route of offering rewards as a positive reinforcement for good behavior (clean up your toys, earn 30 minutes of television time), while others may go the route of discouraging bad behavior by taking away privileges (steal your brother’s toy, get a time out). Of course, there isn’t necessarily a single correct way to parent or discipline children. But, according to recent advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), there may very well be a wrong way: corporal punishment.
For parents who stand by spanking as a legitimate and appropriate method of disciplining kids, the argument seems straightforward enough: it gets kids’ attention and links negative behavior with a negative experience. Not totally unfounded, right? Well, maybe, if not for the fact that, as of recently, physicians and child experts have officially deemed corporal punishment ineffective (and, more than that, problematic) across the board.
According to the most recent guidelines from the AAP, the consensus among experts is that corporal punishment not only has little to show in the way of curbing negative behavior but actually contributes to more aggression and mental health risk later in life for kids.
“Experiencing corporal punishment makes it more, not less, likely that children will be defiant and aggressive in the future,” advise the authors of the updated AAP guidelines. In the short term, corporal punishment mostly just proves pretty ineffective in discouraging bad behavior – ie. 73 percent of kids tend to return to the behavior that got them punished within just 10 minutes of being spanked – while in the long term, repeated use of corporal punishment could lead to more aggressive behavior and increased risk of cognitive and emotional problems.
Moreover, the pediatrics group also warns against verbal abuse and humiliation, which are also counterproductive and don’t necessarily teach children how to regulate their behavior in future instances.
Rather than resorting to spanking or other similar forms of harsh punishment – washing mouths out with soap, for example – experts suggest using disciplinary tactics that reinforce positive behavior rather than punish bad behavior (eg. referring to getting dessert as a reward for eating vegetables rather than framing it as losing dessert privileges for not eating vegetables). The idea is that the best disciplinary results will come from encouraging good behavior in a positive context rather than a negative. If that doesn’t work? Opt for something like a time out or loss of privileges as a harsher alternative that doesn’t take the discipline too far.