Corporal Punishment: Lessons Learned

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:

  •  Non-violent
  •  Solution focused
  •  Respectful
  • 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.

Bell  J. USA Today, Sports.

Botash AS. 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

Kersey, K. The 101 Principles of Positive Discipline.

Pekarsky A. Parenting in a positive way.

Pekarsky A. Part II. Parenting without mistreatment.

Sege, R.  Is Spanking Your Child Ever Okay? .

Staying Positive While Parenting Tips

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.




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The Dangers of Cleaning with Bleach in the News

By Lee Livermore, Public Education Coordinator, Upstate New York Poison Center

Recently a news story was circulating amongst the news media stating “cleaning with bleach may lead to childhood infections”. The stories stated that “a splash of bleach can kill germs on a counter, but it may also cause health problems in children, a new study finds”.

While there is some truth to the stories, it is important to explore the facts. Chemical exposures can be toxic, even when they are household chemicals. Household bleach refers to a number of chemicals which remove color, whiten, or disinfects, often by oxidation. Chlorine is the bases of most common household bleach, which is about 93 percent water and less than 10 percent Chlorine.

According to The American Cleaning Institute (ACI) response to the study,” bleach is a relatively inexpensive and highly effective disinfectant. It not only cleans up dirt and mold, but also kills some of the most dangerous bacteria, including staphylococcus, streptococcus, E. coli and salmonella as well as viruses like the flu and the common cold”.

Back to the headlines, does cleaning with bleach lead to an increase in childhood infections? The answer, it depends. The study, entitled Domestic Use of Bleach and Infections in Children: a multicentre cross sectional study published April 2, 2015 in Occupational & Environmental Medicine Journal, suggested that, “passive exposure to cleaning bleach in the home may have adverse effects on school-aged children.” However, consistent exposure to most any chemical product may be harmful over time.

A different point to consider is, there is a theory in medicine; the hygiene hypothesis is a hypothesis that states that a lack of early childhood exposure to infectious agents might suppress the natural development of the immune system. What this theory is suggesting is some homes might be too clean and that some exposure to bacteria allows the body to learn to build up an immunity to fight off harmful bacteria.

Another point to consider is the exposure to bleach and other antibacterial products. The Upstate New York Poison Center recommends that when using cleaning products they should be out of the reach and exposure of children. An unintentional exposure happen when the product is breathed in, sprayed or splashed on the skin or in the eyes, or is ingested. Bleach might cause breathing problems if ingested or breathed in.

The Poison Center recommends to:

  • Always read the label, for ingredients and proper usage
  • Avoid over use
  • Limit exposure by diluting the product and use in an open ventilation
  • If you think some has been exposed to a toxic chemical call the Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222

Upstate Poison Control Center

Link to study Domestic use of bleach and infections in Children

Link to primary source use and defintion of hygiene hypothesis

Link to The American Cleaning Institute (ACI) response,

Link to local news coverage

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Bullies, Victims and Bystanders

by Ann S. Botash, MD, Professor of Pediatrics

In my experience as a pediatrician specialist for the evaluation of children who are suspected of being abused, the problem of bullying is often a major concern. Children who are different in any way are at risk of being bullied. Since all children are unique individuals, all children are at risk!

The American Academy of Pediatrics defines bullying as “an act of aggression in which one or more children repeatedly and intentionally intimidate, harass or physically harm a victim who is perceived as unable to defend herself or himself.” This exposure to violence is both a mental and physical health issue.  Children and adolescents that bully, similar to adults that bully, use an imbalance of power to access and intimidate their victims. This imbalance may include physical strength, knowledge of embarrassing information, popularity or other appearances of power.

Bullying is not a one-time incident, and, like other forms of child abuse, is repetitive and often escalates.  The spectrum may start with name calling and eventually lead to physical injuries, depression, death and suicide. Bullying is not a “personality conflict” and not something that can be resolved through simply letting the children “work it out.”

There are many other misconceptions about bullying. It is much more common than previously realized, with reports of up to 30% of 6-10th graders bullying or being bullied. Studies have shown that bullying or being bullied is associated with higher rates of carrying weapons. Bullying should not be a normative rite of passage any more than any other form of child abuse. It does not make children stronger or build character any more than any other forms of physical punishment or emotional abuse. In fact, bullying, being bullied and even being a bystander of bullying behavior can have serious long term consequences.

Technology assisted bullying behavior, or cyberbullying, can cause significant psychological trauma. Use of the internet to humiliate, ostracize, shun or stalk has been well publicized in tragic cases of child and adolescent suicides. If you are concerned that your child is being bullied, save all emails, chats, texts and Facebook posts and be prepared to talk to other parents about the issue. This is not something that children can work out between themselves. It requires adult intervention.

What can we, as parents and professionals, do to protect our children and build resilience? We should all encourage our schools to adopt evidence based bullying prevention programs, such as the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. Reducing children’s exposure to violent themes and images in television, internet and video games is an important aspect of bullying prevention. The AAP Resilience Project (reference below) provides helpful material for parents, teachers and children.

Awareness of bullying and recognition of behaviors that may be related to bullying are the first steps to addressing this form of abuse facing our children.

Children who are bullied (and bystanders) often know the bully, just as abused children usually know the perpetrator. Children who bully are often also victims of bullying. The symptoms may be subtle and challenging to interpret. If your child tells you that she/he is being bullied, believe it and take action. If you are concerned about bullying, contact your pediatrician for help and advice. Contact the police if you are concerned that threats have put your family in danger.

Possible signs of bullying:

  • Not wanting to go to school or an activity
  • Changed behaviors such as sad, moody or withdrawn
  • Avoids questions about friends or reasons for their behavior change
  • Becomes upset after using a cell phone or computer
  • Sudden change in academic performance (grades drop)
  • Problems with attention at school
  • Has psychosomatic complaints, such as stomach pain or headache

AAP Resilience Project:

American Academy of Pediatrics Policy statement:

American Academy of Pediatrics Committee statement:

Health Link on Air:

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Sitting is the New Smoking

By Dr. Melissa S. Schafer,  Assistant Professor of Pediatrics

As parents, I think we all are aware that it is a good idea for our children to be as physically active as possible, as much as possible, and that this will lead to good things in our children’s lives: longer lives, healthier lives. We do many things to keep our kids active, we sign them up for t-ball, send them outside, get them a bike. Nationwide, our policy makers are spreading the word, trying to keep gym programs in schools and healthy choices on the lunch menu. All this is well and good, but what about us, the parents? Do our habits translate to our children’s lifestyle later on? Of course.

In England, the BBC recently reported on the British Cohort Study, where they followed thousands of people born in the UK in 1970 and checked on their habits and health at different points in their lives. What they found was “children who watched a lot of TV aged 10 were 42% more likely to spend more than three hours a day in front of the screen as adults than those who watched relatively little television in childhood” At age 42, those same 10 year old who watched a lot of TV were more likely to be overweight or obese and in fair or poor health.

As parents can we model the health habits we hope to see in our children in 30 years? Of course, but it takes work. We have to get up and active ourselves, enjoy it and involve our children in it. We have to go for walks. We need grown up bikes and helmets. We need grown up softball league, bowling league, and soccer club. We have so many other demands on our time and attention, but this is something that may truly save our children’s lives. Nothing is more important.

For more tips:

To see Syracuse Pediatricians getting active with kids:




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Why is Syracuse glowing Blue in April? It is World Autism Awareness Day!

By Dr. Carroll Grant,  Margaret L.William’s Developmental Evaluation Center Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital

World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD), celebrated each year on April 2, was adopted by the United Nations in 2007 to shine a bright light on autism as a growing global health crisis.

Autism is one of only three health issues to be recognized with its own day by the United Nations. Currently, one out of 68 children is being diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder often affecting their ability to learn, communicate and interact with others.  There is no known cause or cure.

April is autism awareness month. Thousands of iconic landmarks, communities, businesses and homes across the globe unite by shining bright blue lights in honor of the millions of individuals and families around the world affected by autism. These awareness activities increase world knowledge of autism and impart information about the importance of early diagnosis and early intervention. Upstate’s own Margaret L.William’s Developmental Evaluation Center (MLW/DEC)  is coordinating the local Blue Lights for Autism campaign.  Several of Syracuse’s downtown and surrounding buildings will be lit in blue to join this international awareness effort.

Additionally, WAAD celebrates the unique talents and skills of persons with autism around the world.

Some of the individual’s affected by autism were recently featured in an exhibit, Unique Thinkers Change the World,  at the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital Gallery created by the MLW/DEC and Upstate Marketing and Communications.

Dan Aykroyd:   Actor and Comedian, star and writer of Ghostbusters and The Blues Brothers.

 Susan Boyle:  Top-selling Singer, 2008-2009 finalist on Britain’s Got Talent.

James Durbin:  Singer, 2011 finalist on American Idol.

Thomas Edison:  Holder of 1093 patents and inventor of the light bulb

Albert Einstein: Nobel Prize winner, father of modern Physics, lover of fairy tales

Temple Grandin:  Professor and Doctor of Animal Science

Thomas Jefferson:  US President, author of the Declaration of Independence.

 Clay Marzo:  National champion and professional surfer

 Vernon L. Smith:  Harvard PhD, Nobel Prize winner and social economist

Satochi Tajiri: Creator of Pokémon and one of the world’s top game designers.

Alexis Wineman: Miss Montana 2012, college student and first Miss America contestant with autism.

All these individuals have/had a unique way of looking at life and learning.  All living individuals included on this list have self disclosed having an Autism Spectrum Disorder. In knowing about the lives of some historical figures we can speculate that perhaps they share this autistic way of experiencing the world. The individuals selected have made a difference because of their unique approach to life.

How can you support Autism Awareness?

Wear blue on April 2

Walk for autism on Saturday, April 25


For more information on autism related events and information

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