ADHD News & Research

AAP: “There’s No Benefit to Spanking.”

Corporal punishment is still legal – and used – in many states to discipline children. This week, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a detailed statement with research showing that spanking doesn’t help. In fact, it’s harmful.

November 6, 2018

Spanking is a less popular form of discipline today than it was 20 years ago — in no small part because so many parenting experts have spoken out against it. Still, many caregivers in the United States argue that it’s “sometimes necessary” to teach kids how to behave.

Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), an organization of 67,000 physicians, took a strong stance against corporal punishment as a disciplinary tool. Spanking not only ineffective, the AAP says, but there is evidence that it can increase aggression in children over time and cause damage to a growing brain.

Its policy statement1 advises against the use of any form of physical discipline or verbal abuse intended to shame and humiliate a child. The basis for this advice is recent research and a new understanding of brain development, which show the following:

  • Any positive behavioral effect of spanking is extremely short-lived. Nearly two-thirds of children returned to the behavior for which they were punished within 10 minutes.
  • Corporal types of discipline elevate stress hormones and cause changes in a child’s brain architecture.
  • Physical discipline makes it more, not less, likely that children will be aggressive and defiant in the future.
  • Corporal punishment is associated with increased risk of mental health disorders and cognition problems.
  • Spanking alone creates adverse outcomes similar to those observed in children who are physically abused.

In other words, it’s a major no-no for correcting childhood misbehavior.

So, what does work?

Policy co-author Benjamin S. Siegel M.D., FAAP says, “It’s best to begin with the premise of rewarding positive behavior. Parents can set up rules and expectations in advance. The key is to be consistent in following through with them.”

The reasons why some parents resort to corporal punishment are complex, but the risk of striking a child goes up across the board when the family is experiencing stress, trauma, economic challenges, or mental health problems.

The AAP is hopeful that pediatricians will distribute educational materials that will – in time – educate caregivers about the serious damage done in spanking. Then, work with parents to develop healthy and effective discipline strategies, which include positive reinforcement, setting limits, redirecting, and establishing future expectations.

1 Robert D. Sege,  and Benjamin S. Siegel. “Effective Discipline to Raise Healthy Children.” From the American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement , 5 November 2018. doi: 10.1542/peds.2018-3112