Alice Swenson, MD, is a child abuse pediatrician at the Midwest Children’s Resource Center, a clinic which is dedicated to the medical evaluation of suspected child abuse and neglect.
There has been much conversation in the media regarding corporal punishment and physical abuse of children. We at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota have an obligation to protect the health and safety of all children in our community and to respond to questions about discipline and abuse. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reaffirmed its statement on discipline in 2012. The statement concludes that the purpose of discipline is to “teach or instruct” a child to prepare him or her to “achieve competence, self-control, self-direction, and caring for others.”
And while physical punishment of a child may be immediately effective in stopping an unwanted behavior, it is less useful in the long term. Spanking or hitting a child “models aggressive behavior as a solution to conflict and has been associated with increased aggression” in children. In addition, parents who resort to physical discipline are more likely to escalate the severity of the punishment in order to continue to achieve the desired effect, resulting in serious injury and abuse. We share the position of the AAP, that physical punishment of a child is not the optimal approach to discipline.
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