Helping Parents Understand Why Spanking is not Effective 2/14/2019

While the rate of corporal punishment is lessening over time, many parents continue to use spanking as a discipline tool. There is growing evidence on its limited efficacy and harmful effects. Parents often look to their children’s primary care providers for guidance on discipline. In fact, parents trust their doctors’ recommendations on parenting as much as their partners’ advice and their own parents’ advice. It is therefore helpful to have evidence to back a recommendation to stop spanking in families who continue to use it.

The highest prevalence of spanking is in 2-6 year old children. Overall nationally the rate is gradually decreasing, related to smaller family size, shift from religious groups backing the use of corporal punishment, the end of use of corporal punishment in schools, and a better understanding of child development informing affection based parenting instead of obedience based parenting.

The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a new guideline in November 2018 that took a stance against corporal punishment. The guideline is called “Effective Discipline to Raise Healthy Children”. Aversive disciplinary strategies, including corporal punishment and yelling at or shaming children, are minimally effective in the short-term and not effective in the long-term.

Science shows that other parenting styles are as or more effective without having the negative effects. Spanking is not effective to teach children about responsibility and self control. One goal of discipline is to teach children about appropriate behavior and corporal punishment does not do that. Negative effects include an increase in aggression, defiance and low self esteem. Children who are spanked on a regular basis at age 3 are more likely to be aggressive themselves at age 5. Corporal punishment in early childhood has also been linked to depression and substance abuse in adolescence and domestic violence in adulthood.

The AAP recommends that pediatricians and other primary care providers use their influence in office visits to help parents with age-appropriate strategies for handling their child’s discipline. There are media resources available for parents who are interested in learning more. There is a national health initiative called the US Alliance to End the Hitting of Children and their website is The AAP has guidelines for appropriate disciplinary strategies based on age: Bright Futures Guidelines for Health Supervision of Infants, Children, and Adolescents. SmartCare BHCS is here to help with referrals for community resources when needed.






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