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The American Academy of Pediatrics and many other professional organizations are strongly opposed to spanking. All children need discipline on hundreds of occasions but there are alternatives to spanking. Redirecting (distracting) the child, taking away a privilege, or sending a child to his or her room are some of the other ways to discipline. We can raise children to be agreeable, responsible, productive adults without ever spanking them.

What are the reasons not to spank?

There are several good arguments for not spanking. Spanking carries the risk of an angry chain-reaction that sometimes ends in child abuse. Also, spanking makes aggressive behavior worse because it teaches a child to lash out when he or she is angry. Other forms of discipline can be more constructive, leaving a child with some sense of guilt and help them form a conscience. Parents who turn to spanking as a last resort for "breaking their child's will" usually find that they have underestimated their child's will.

Also consider the legal argument. If physical punishment were directed against another adult, it would be called assault and battery and that's illegal. Currently most European countries, Israel, Japan and many others prohibit physical punishment of children by law. Physical punishment by school staff is illegal in all countries except the United States and South Africa. On the brighter side it is currently prohibited by the State Board of Education in 37 out of 50 states.

What are the safety rules for physical punishment?

It is preferred that you not use spanking to discipline your child. Less than 50% of American parents still use some physical punishment in child rearing. It's gradually becoming less socially acceptable to spank. So if you have not changed your mind after reading these facts, please follow these safety guidelines:

  • Always use other techniques (such as time-out) first. Only use spanking for behaviors that are dangerous or deliberately defiant of your instructions.
  • Hit only with an open hand. It is difficult to judge how hard you are hitting your child if you hit him or her with an object other than your hand. Paddles and belts may cause bruises. Spanking should never leave more than temporary redness of the skin.
  • Hit only on the buttocks, legs, or hands. Hitting a child on the face is demeaning as well as dangerous. In fact, slapping the face is inappropriate at any age. Your child could suddenly turn his head and the slap could damage his vision or hearing.
  • Give only one swat. That's enough to change behavior. Spanking your child more than once may relieve your anger but will probably not teach your child anything else.
  • Don't spank children less than 18 months old. Spanking is absolutely inappropriate before your child has learned to walk. Spanking should be unnecessary after the age of 6 years. After that you should be able to discuss problems with your child.
  • Because of the serious risk of causing blood clots on the brain, never shake any young child.
  • Use spanking no more than once a day. The more your child is spanked, the less effect it will have.
  • Learn alternatives to spanking. Isolating a child in a corner or bedroom for a time-out can be very effective. Learn how to use other forms of discipline. Spanking should never be the main form of discipline a child receives.
  • Never spank your child when you are out of control, scared, or drinking. A few parents can't stop hitting their child once they start. They can't control their rage. They must learn to walk away from their children and never use physical punishment. They should seek help for themselves from Parents Anonymous or other self-help groups.
  • Do not spank your child for aggressive misbehavior, such as biting, hitting, or kicking. This teaches a child that it is all right for a bigger person to hit a smaller person. Aggressive children need to be taught restraint and self-control. They respond best to time-outs, which give them an opportunity to think about the pain they have caused. If you are not using time-outs, read more on how to make them work for you.
  • Do not allow baby sitters, child care staff, and teachers to spank your children.
Written by B.D. Schmitt, M.D., author of "Your Child's Health," Bantam Books.
Published by McKesson Provider Technologies.
Last modified: 2006-03-01
Last reviewed: 2006-03-01
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright 2006 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved.
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