Swatting Children as Punishment is Linked to Aggression

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A new study shows that spanking young toddlers can raise the risk of them becoming aggressive and even turning into bullies.

The study was conducted by researchers from Tulane University and suggested that kids who were spanked often were twice as likely as those who weren't spanked to develop aggressive behaviors such as getting into fights, destroying things or being mean to others.

For the study, the researchers surveyed 2500 parents of young children. Researchers asked parents how often they spanked their youngsters. "That is really a key point that sets the study apart," said Catherine A. Taylor, of Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans, who led the research, published in the journal Pediatrics.

"Causality is extremely difficult to prove," Taylor said. Still, she added, "the evidence is at a point where we want to encourage parents to use techniques other than spanking that can actually lower children's risk for being more aggressive."

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Although the researchers based their findings on what mothers told them, they echo the data behind anti-spanking recommendations by several professional societies, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association.

"The evidence is clear that spanking does lead to aggression," psychologist Sandra A. Graham-Bermann, who was not involved in the new study, told Reuters Health in an e-mail. Graham-Bermann, of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, recently chaired an American Psychological Association division task force that reviewed the research on corporal punishment.

She said spanking, which is defined as open-handed hitting that does not injure the child, makes children do what they're told in the short term, but doesn't work in the long term and may in fact be harmful.

Many psychologists recommend time-outs and other types of non-physical punishment. If that doesn't work, Graham-Bermann said a parent might want to wait until his or her anger has blown over before talking to the child about the problem.

Despite all the studies and countless recommendations of professional societies, surveys show that as many as 90 percent of parents spank their children, ignoring what is best for their children.

Taylor encourages parents to talk to a pediatrician about how to better control their toddlers if they use this type of punishment. "Children need guidance and discipline," said Taylor. "However, parents should focus on positive, non-physical forms of discipline and avoid the use of spanking."

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