By Scott Hensley
Spare the rod and avoid turning your kid into a bully.
That's one message from the results of a study just published by the journal Pediatrics. Kids who were spanked more than twice a month as 3-year-olds were much more likely to become aggressive 5-year-olds than kids who weren't disciplined that way.
The research, involving almost 2,500 moms, accounted for all sort of factors that might affect kids' behavior, including how aggressive they were to start with.
Researchers asked moms how often they spanked their 3-year-olds and also a bunch of questions about the kids' behavior. Two years later, the researchers checked back to see how the children were.
Even after factoring in all sorts of parenting risks, including drug use and neglect, the researchers found that kids who were spanked more frequently had a much greater chance of acting out aggressively two years later.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has said for years that spanking, and other forms of corporal punishment, aren't the way to go for improving your child's behavior. How come? Well for starters, hitting, pinching or slapping a child isn't as effective as a time-out or taking away privileges, such as TV time.
Also, kids quickly grow resistant to corporal punishment. "Although spanking may immediately reduce or stop an undesired behavior, its effectiveness decreases with subsequent use," the pediatricians group said in advice on discipline in 1998. "The only way to maintain the initial effect of spanking is to systematically increase the intensity with which it is delivered, which can quickly escalate into abuse."
We weren't so sure about the finding last year that spanking could lower a kid's IQ. But this prospective study on what happens to kids who got spanked is pretty compelling.
But the pediatricians have a long way to go, if they want parents to change their ways. The study notes that corporal punishment remains common and is widely seen to be normal by parents. So better marketing is needed, the study authors conclude, to persuade parents that other disciplinary approaches "are effective and less risky."