LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Do not do it, no matter how badly your kids misbehave or how angry they make you. The American Academy of Pediatrics is now saying categorically that parents should not spank their children. Studies show that it's harmful in the long run to kids. The academy also says to avoid non-physical punishment that is humiliating, scary or threatening. Dr. Jennifer Shu is a pediatrician and author of several parenting books, including "Baby And Child Health: The Essential Guide From Birth To 11 years." She presented the AAP's new position along with Dr. Robert Sege at a news conference last week. And she joins me now. Welcome.
JENNIFER SHU: Thank you for having me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the academy 20 years ago suggested that parents not spank. This is now much more strongly worded. I understand the new policy statement draws on evidence that spanking can affect how kids brains develop. What have we learned in the last two decades?
SHU: So we know that the brain does not grow and develop as well once there has been physical punishment - to the point where it can cause learning problems, problems with vocabulary and memory, as well as aggressive behavior. So really, it's not something that we want to resort to because of the brain changes in the future.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And then there are other kinds of punishments that the academy finds problematic, too - right? - verbal behaviors?
SHU: You know, anything that's verbally abusive in addition to being physically abusive can change the brain architecture. Basically, these are adverse childhood events that can cause toxic stress that can lead to health problems, as well as emotional problems as a child reaches the preteen and teen years.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: As a pediatrician, what do you say to parents who aren't sure how to discipline without spanking?
SHU: The best thing to do is try to reward good behavior and be consistent with your expectations and how you respond to behavior that you're trying to make go away, basically.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So give me an example.
SHU: An example might be that you don't want, let's say, a school age child to hit their toddler or baby sibling. If they're going to do that, you need to, you know, say, we always use soft touches and remove them from the situation any time that you see it happening. Some children might respond to timeouts - a minute per year of age for ages two to five, basically. So sometimes, having that timeout to take a break and regroup can help them calm down and then see why that behavior was not good. So the expectation would be that you don't hit your brother or sister. And then, once you see that they're doing a good job, catch them being good and praise them when they're behaving correctly.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Positive reinforcement. I imagine you still run into parents who prefer to spank, who believe in it. Can you tell me a story about one of those interactions?
SHU: So sometimes, I do get parents who say, well, that's the only way they'll listen to me or that I got spanked when I was young. And I turned out fine. And I think it's great that so many parents did get spanked, you know, growing up and turned out what seems to be OK. But knowing what we do now, we really need to avoid physical punishment because we know that can be harmful. You know, there weren't any car seats, for example, when I grew up. We turned out fine - those of us who live to tell about it. But now that we have safety information and car seats, we do recommend that everybody use them all the time. So it's kind of a similar situation that more is known now. And we should follow those current recommendations.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, some states still allow corporal punishment, as it's called.
SHU: So 19 states, including Georgia, where I live, do permit schools to use things like belts or paddles or even spanking as a form of punishment for children. But the majority of states do not. And I would hope that we would continue to shift in the direction of encouraging non-physical punishment.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Dr. Jennifer Shu, pediatrician and author, most recently of "Heading Home With Your Newborn: From Birth To Reality" with Laura Jana. Thank you so much.
SHU: Thank you for having me.
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