By Ann S. Botash, MD
“This is lesson number two, this is what you should not do.” The Bike Lesson, by Stan and Jan Berenstain
When Papa Bear shows Brother Bear the rules of the road in this 1964 book from the Berenstain Bear series, he inevitably ends up with a twisted bike in a comical mess. Although the story is about a bike lesson, I have often thought that the real lesson for parents reading this book to their children is that children learn from their parents’ actions – even “what they should not do.” I loved this book as a child and now find it makes a useful point to help understand the issues related to corporal punishment.
Corporal punishment is defined as the use of physical force with the intent to cause physical pain but not physical injury, for the purpose of correction or control of the child’s behavior. Methods include the use of an open hand, hitting with an implement and/or enforced standing, starvation, cold bathing, etc.
USA Today just reported that Adrian Peterson has been reinstated to the NFL (April 16, 2015). The highly publicized whipping of his 4 year old son and subsequent child abuse charges caused a national outrage as the Vikings lost sponsors when they allowed him to play. The graphic images of his son’s injuries, classic findings of excessive corporal punishment, were posted in news articles on the internet. The public and the media were divided in their support of him and his actions. Adrian Peterson’s mother was quoted as saying, “It is about love, it’s not about abuse, it’s about love.” Corporal punishment is a risk factor for escalation to physical abuse and severe injuries, such as those observed in Peterson’s son. Research shows that corporal punishment has no benefits over spanking and that other means of discipline are more effective.
Surveys show that many Americans do spank their children. In New York State, corporal punishment is allowed in the home, but may be considered abuse, neglect or assault. It prohibited in day care, alternate care, and public schools. It is allowed in private schools, although usually requires consent. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents not spank their children. There are more effective methods to teach children right from wrong without hitting them. We want to guide children to make appropriate decisions, be safe, and grow up to have good self-esteem. We want to do this all while also modeling good behavior.
Positive discipline is an approach to teaching that helps children to succeed, gives them information and supports their growth. It brings together what we know about children’s healthy development, research on effective parenting and children’s rights principles. It is a set of principles that can be applied in a wide range of situations. In fact it can help guide all parents’ interactions with their children, not just those that are challenging. Methods for positive parenting are based on principles that are:
- Solution focused
- Based on child development
The first of ten principles of positive parenting, recommended by Dr. Katharine C. Kersey Ed.D, 2006, is called the “Demonstrate Respect Principle.” This principle encourages caregivers to treat children the same way that they treat other important people in their lives. Some people would refer to this as the Golden Rule –treat people the way that you would want to be treated. If you treat children the way you would want to be treated, they will learn to do the same. This is not only the first principle, but I would consider it to be lesson number one! For more information on the other 9 principles of positive parenting, click on the Health Link-on-Air links below to hear Dr. Alicia Pekarsky.
What do children learn if we use physical discipline to correct their mistakes? The research on corporal punishment is clear. Spanking children is linked to poor behavioral and cognitive outcomes. That is, children who are hit do not learn “love” but learn to be more aggressive and do not learn as well. Using forms of discipline that utilize threats and corporal punishment can lead to bullying behaviors in older children. Studies have shown increased medical problems, depression, poorer parent-child relationships, increased delinquent behavior, poorer mental health and later physical abuse of a grown child’s own children or spouse.
This is what we should not do, this is lesson number two: Don’t hit your children!
For additional information:
American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health Policy Statement: Guidance for Effective Discipline. Pediatrics 1998 Aug;101;723-728. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/101/4/723.full.pdf+html
Botash AS. Bullies, Victims and Bystanders. http://blogs.upstate.edu/pedstoparents/2015/04/13/bullies-victims-and-bystanders/
Gershoff ET. Report on physical punishment in the United States: What research tells us about its effects on children. Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Child Abuse Prevention. 2008 http://www.phoenixchildrens.org/sites/default/files/PDFs/Report_on_physical_punishment_exec_summary.pdf
Kersey, K. The 101 Principles of Positive Discipline. http://teachtrainlove.com/the-heart-of-positive-discipline/
Pekarsky A. Parenting in a positive way. http://blogs.upstate.edu/healthlinkonair/2014/12/03/parenting-in-a-positive-way/
Pekarsky A. Part II. Parenting without mistreatment. http://blogs.upstate.edu/healthlinkonair/2015/03/19/positive-parenting-part-two-discipline-without-mistreatment/
Sege, R. Is Spanking Your Child Ever Okay? http://radiomd.com/show/healthy-children/item/23214-disciplining-your-child-is-spanking-ever-ok .
Staying Positive While Parenting Tips http://champprogram.com/pdf/Staying-Positive-While-Parenting-pamphlet-cny.pdf
Strauss MA, Steward JH. Corporal punishment by American parents: National data on prevalence, chronicity, severity, and duration, in relation to child and family characteristics. Clinical Child and Family Psych Rev. 1999; 2(2): 55-70. http://pubpages.unh.edu/~mas2/CP36.pdf