Yesterday, we began looking at the AAP’s updated policy statement on “Effective Discipline to Raise Healthy Children,” and were clued in to what works and, just as importantly, what doesn’t:

The AAP recommends that adults caring for children use healthy forms of discipline, such as positive reinforcement of appropriate behaviors, setting limits, redirecting, and setting future expectations. The AAP recommends that parents do not use spanking, hitting, slapping, threatening, insulting, humiliating, or shaming.


Discipline should be distinguished from punishment, according to the AAP’s Trisha Korioth:

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages parents to use discipline strategies, not physical or verbal punishments to stop unwanted behaviors in children and teens.

Teaching children to recognize and control their behavior is an important job for the adults in their lives. How adults respond to a child’s behaviors has lasting effects on her development, according to the AAP. It shapes how the child thinks, behaves, feels and interacts with others. It also teaches the child how to behave as an adult.

Discipline teaches kids what is acceptable. When children are taught how to control their behaviors, they learn how to avoid harm.

Punishment might work fast to stop bad behavior. But it is not effective over time, according to the AAP.


In fact, the use of spanking can backfire, leading to an unhealthy and vicious cycle:

The AAP advises that parents and caregivers should not spank or hit children. Instead of teaching responsibility and self-control, spanking often increases aggression and anger in children. A study of children born in 20 large U.S. cities found that families who used physical punishment got caught in a negative cycle: the more children were spanked, the more they later misbehaved, which prompted more spankings in response. Spanking’s effects may also be felt beyond the parent-child relationship. Because it teaches that causing someone pain is OK if you’re frustrated—even with those you love. Children who are spanked may be more likely to hit others when they don’t get what they want.


Yesterday we noted that the AAP and its pediatric members take direction from evidence-based science rather than from tradition or folklore. “I was spanked and I turned out okay” is a flawed argument that condones what science tells us is ineffective and dangerous punishment that can leave lasting marks:

Physical punishment increases the risk of injury, especially in children under 18 months of age, and may leave other measurable marks on the brain and body. Children who are spanked show higher levels of hormones tied to toxic stress. Physical punishment may also affect brain development. One study found that young adults who were spanked repeatedly had less gray matter, the part of the brain involved with self-control, and performed lower on IQ tests as young adults than the control group.


Words can hurt deeply, too:

Yelling at children and using words to cause emotional pain or shame also has been found to be ineffective and harmful. Harsh verbal discipline, even by parents who are otherwise warm and loving, can lead to more misbehavior and mental health problems in children. Research shows that harsh verbal discipline, which becomes more common as children get older, may lead to more behavior problems and symptoms of depression in teens.


Tomorrow on The PediaBlog, we will look at some healthy discipline strategies that will work for parents and children.


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