Spanking May Not Have the Impact You Want

Premier Health Now

To spank or not to spank?

Parents have long wrestled with this question, Mark Casdorph, DO, child and adolescent psychiatrist at Upper Valley Outpatient Behavioral Health Services, tells Premier Health Now.

But in recent years spanking has been falling more out of favor in the child health community. Dr. Casdorph cites as an example the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recent policy statement recommending that pediatricians advise parents not to spank.

This statement, to be published in the December issue of the journal Pediatrics, sharpens AAP’s previous stance that recommended parents be “encouraged” not to spank.

Why the change? Dr. Casdorph explains: “An analysis of multiple studies clearly shows children do not benefit from spanking.” For instance, he says studies have shown that spanking:

  • “Makes kids more aggressive and defiant when they’re older.”
  • Can lead to shrinkage of a child’s frontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with critical behavioral functions such as judgment, attention span, decision-making and inhibition.

What’s the Alternative?

“It’s easy for us in the medical profession to say, ‘Don’t spank,’” Dr. Casdorph says. “We need to offer alternatives for parents that they can have success with.”

Here are a few of his recommendations:

  • Lead by example. “There’s no better way to show a child how to behave than by doing it yourself. For instance, show them this is how we help around the house.”
  • Stay calm when you talk with your child. “If you yell, all they’re going to hear is loud words, and about all they’ll understand is mommy and daddy are upset. Use a calm, consistent tone and get down to the child’s eye level. You’ll get more success.”
  • Clearly tell your child the behavior you expect from him. “’Go clean up your room.’ Well, what does that mean? Make your instructions very specific, for instance, ‘everything off the floor by 5 o’clock.’” The same goes for older children. “When you tell your teen not to stay out late, what does that mean? If your stated expectations are vague, you reduce your chances of getting what you want from your child.”
  • “Catch your child at being good. And let them know right up front: ‘I really like how you cleaned up your room on your own.’ That has a real positive effect on a child.”
  • “Know when to pick your battles. If cleaning their room is not at the top of your list, close the door. Let the small stuff go.”
  • Use “time out” to help defuse bad behavior and calm emotions. “Use a code word, and when they hear it, people go into a neutral corner for five minutes. Repeat as needed to resolve the issue. Being patient will allow the child to make (and hopefully buy into) the changes you are wanting.”