To spank or not to spank?

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- When it comes to raising children, discipline is a huge issue. One topic that's sure to spark a spirited debate is spanking.

The Canadian Medical Association wants to make spanking illegal. The editor-in-chief said studies have shown spanking to be ineffective, calling it a "flawed discipline tool." He also said spanking can lead to aggression in children, as well as emotional and behavioral problems later in life.

According to the interpretations of a recent study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, "There appears to be a linear association between the frequency of slapping and spanking during childhood and a lifetime prevalence of anxiety disorder, alcohol abuse or dependence and externalizing problems."

While spanking has been outlawed in 30 countries, other nationals have laws that protect a parent's option to spank his or her child.

Scottsdale psychiatrist Dr. Sristi Nath, who works with children, says the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry does not condone corporal punishment, which includes spanking.

"Corporal punishment signals to the child that a way to settle interpersonal conflicts is to use physical force and inflict pain," reads a 1988 AACAP policy statement on corporal punishment in schools. "Such children may in turn resort to such behavior themselves."

"Although we may see some short-term improvement [in behavior] ... in the long run, there can be continued behavioral problems," Nath explained.

While not everyone who was spanked themselves as a child becomes aggressive later in live, Nath said it's essential that parents be aware of the potential. The goal, she says, is to "gear parents more toward productive ways of redirecting behavior ...."

Based on what she see in her own practice, Nath says non-physical methods of redirecting problematic behavior "can be at least as -- if not more -- effective than spanking itself."

Experts say there are several alternatives to spanking.

  • Ignore negative behavior
  • Redirect negative behavior
  • Set clear consequences
  • Use time out for dangerous behavior
  • Just say, "No" -- at their level (face to face, eye to eye)

Nath said these options can work quite well when applied consistently from every adult in the child's life.

"Parents have to have clear, concise and consistent expectations for their kids," she explained. "If a child knows what they're supposed to do, they're more likely to follow it."