Teaching Children Right from Wrong with Healthy Forms of Discipline

We all want what is best for our children and to teach them right from wrong. Helping children understand the natural consequences of their actions and teaching good behavior is a crucial part of healthy development. By using positive and effective discipline methods, rather than corporal punishment (including hitting and spanking), we can help provide a solid foundation for children to grow into productive members of society.

The AAP Opposes Corporal Punishment

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has released Effective Discipline to Raise Healthy Children, an updated policy statement on corporal punishment stating: “Parents, other caregivers, and adults interacting with children and adolescents should not use corporal punishment, either in anger or as a punishment for or consequence of misbehavior, nor should they use any disciplinary strategy, including verbal abuse, that causes shame or humiliation.” As a leader in the primary prevention of child abuse and neglect, Prevent Child Abuse America supports this position.

Parents and caregivers regularly experience children who misbehave, and sometimes in these stressful moments a parent’s ability to be calm, rational, and patient when dealing with the situation can be tested. Sometimes a parent might revert to their instinct which, for some, includes use of hitting or spanking to change the unwanted behavior. Other times a parent might recall how they were disciplined as a child and use spanking to teach a lesson “because that’s how I was raised.” Yet in other instances, factors like depression, mental health problems, economic challenges, substance abuse, and intimate partner violence result in parents resorting to hitting or spanking.

Hitting and Spanking Are Ineffective and Harmful to Children

How can we justify that hitting and spanking our children will teach them to behave properly? In fact, the opposite is true. Studies show that spanking is minimally effective in the short-term and not effective in the long-term. Additionally, there are numerous studies that show that children who are spanked present with higher levels of aggression, have an increased risk of mental health disorders and cognitive problems, and lower self-esteem compared to children who are not spanked. There are also studies that show that a history of corporal punishment and verbal abuse can change the structure of the brain’s anatomy.

Positive and Effective Discipline Methods

Every child needs discipline and help knowing right from wrong, but there are ways to do it without causing physical harm. Effective discipline methods like loss of privileges or time-outs can help teach a child about the consequences for bad behaviors, while rewarding positive behaviors helps encourage the child to make better decisions. Kids also learn how to behave by modeling their parents. When parents demonstrate how to resolve conflict in a non-violent way, it teaches the child strategies they can use now and into their adult lives. Asking for advice from professionals, such as the child’s pediatrician, can help parents to better understand their child’s developmental stage and how to effectively discipline based on the child’s age, developmental status and other factors. There are also online resources and programs for parents to learn effective discipline strategies, such as: the CDC’s Positive Parenting Tips, the AAP’s HealthyChildren.org site, and programs like Connected Kids: Safe, Strong, and Secure and Bright Futures.

Our Children Are Our Future

At Prevent Child Abuse America we believe that every child should have a great childhood, free from physical harm. Children should receive the positive support and effective guidance needed to help them live a happy, healthy life.

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