Physical punishment with children may lead to permanent life-long behavioral problems, experts say
It can be frustrating when children misbehave. When all other avenues appear to fail, some parents resort to physical punishment.
“Physical punishment can vary widely and encompasses many types of behaviors,” said Dr. Malcolm Vandrevala, a pediatric psychiatrist at Advocate Children’s Hospital. “It may include behaviors such as spanking, but may also include other rough/inappropriate behaviors such as pushing, slapping, flicking, pulling, etc.”
Physical punishment can permanently affect a child, he said. Because children learn behaviors modeled by others, when parents or care givers resort to physical aggression to solve a problem with children, they are sending the message that this is an appropriate way to handle stress and difficult situations. As they get older, children may copy that behavior.
To deal more effectively with behavioral problems, Dr. Vandrevala encourages parents to set consequences. Whatever a parent decides to utilize for discipline, it is important to sit children down and explain things to them before implementing a strategy.
“We can’t expect kids to immediately understand what a consequence will look like without some kind of age-appropriate explanation,” Dr. Vandrevala said. “I tend to recommend timeouts for younger children – no more than 1 minute for each year of age. Loss of privileges can also be a helpful to utilize in some situations.”
A recent review article was published in the Lancet that summarized the findings of 69 different studies. The authors found that physical punishment was correlated with an increase in child behavioral problems over time. It also specifically noted that physical punishment was not correlated with positive outcomes in children over time, rather, evidence showed it could be correlated with detrimental outcomes to the child. Physical punishment from parents also leads to an increase risk for having child protective services involved in a home.
“Based on the studies we have, it is very clear that physical punishments not only do not show any significant benefit over time, but can create many long-term issues,” adds Dr. Vandrevala.
Healthy ways to handle behavioral concerns include praising them when they show appropriate behavior, he said. You can also motivate your kids by allowing them to earn privileges.
“It is important for parents to be able to stay calm during discipline and try not to allow the situations to turn into back-and-forth arguments,” he said.