Dear Parents: “No Spanking” Says APA

The science is clear on the negative effects of corporal punishment.

Posted Feb 25, 2019

Good news for children’s wellbeing! The American Psychological Association came out with a resolution on February 18, 2019, against spanking and corporal punishment of children. The resolution cites considerable research supporting its conclusions. (See press release and download the full document here.)

Here are the “whereas” statements and the main “therefore” conclusion.

“WHEREAS:

  • Physical discipline is associated with increased adverse outcomes for children across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups and across community contexts
  • Research indicates that physical discipline is not effective in achieving parents’ long-term goals of decreasing aggressive and defiant behavior in children or of promoting regulated and socially competent behavior in children.
  • The research on the adverse outcomes associated with physical discipline indicates that any perceived short-term benefits of physical discipline do not outweigh the detriments of this form of discipline.
  • Research has shown that children learn from the behavior modeled by parents, and therefore physical discipline may teach undesirable conflict resolution practices.
  • There is evidence that physical discipline may escalate into injurious behavior that meets accepted criteria for abuse.
  • Socially acceptable disciplinary goals of education, training, and socialization of children can be achieved without the use of physical discipline.
  • Children have a right to be treated with dignity and respect.
  • Use of physical discipline is strongly predicted by parents’ attitudes about it, which may arise from complex cultural identity issues, practices, and norms.

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the American Psychological Association recognizes that scientific evidence demonstrates the negative effects of physical discipline of children by caregivers and thereby recommends that caregivers use alternative forms of discipline that are associated with more positive outcomes for children.”

The resolution goes further in advocating culturally appropriate education for positive parenting and funding for research on parenting related to disciplinary matters.

The APA’s position is a step toward conforming with our species heritage (our 99%) of no coercion between persons, a destroyer of relationship (Narvaez, 2013). Children develop their sense of the world from how they are treated, imitate the behaviors of those around them, and form the relational habits of treating others the way they were treated (Narvaez, 2014). So it is important for children to be immersed in loving relationships, playful companionship and community support (our evolved nest) so they can grow unimpeded by feelings of rejection, badness and worthlessness but instead as compassionate beings (Nicholson & Parker, 2013).

Sometimes parents have difficulty controlling their impulses when their child triggers shame or anger in them. In this case, parents need to heal themselves and learn to let go of the past to be emotionally and responsively present to their children. Susan Stiffelman points out in her book, Parenting with Presence, (2015, p. 15):

  • "Intuitively, our children understand that it isn't their responsibility to behave in ways that heal whatever wounds we bring from earlier relationships. So it can happen that our children's misbehavior [what we perceive as misbehavior] truly does become a gift, because if we are willing to look within instead of projecting our hurts onto them, we can work through unfinished emotional business."

Daniel Hughes and Jonathan Baylin in their book, Brain-Based Parenting, help parents take steps to heal their own relational style and establish PACE (playfulness, acceptance, curiosity, empathy). Discipline becomes coached respect and responsibility, not punishment.

The movement toward positive parenting is growing. Welcome aboard, APA!

References

Hughes, D.A., & Baylin, J. (2012). Brain-based parenting: The neuroscience of caregiving for healthy attachment. New York: W.W. Norton.

Narvaez, D. (2013). The 99%--Development and socialization within an evolutionary context: Growing up to become “A good and useful human being.” In D. Fry (Ed.), War, peace and human nature: The convergence of evolutionary and cultural views (pp. 643-672). New York: Oxford University Press.

Narvaez, D. (2016). Baselines for virtue. In J. Annas, D. Narvaez, & N. Snow  (Eds.), Developing the virtues: Integrating perspectives (pp. 14-33). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. doi:  10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190271466.003.0002

Narvaez, D. (2018). The developmental niche for peace. In P. Verbeek & B. Peters (Eds.), Peace ethology, behavioral processes and systems of peace (pp. 95-112). Oxford, England: Wiley-Blackwell.

Nicholson, B., & Parker, L. (2013). Attached at the heart: Eight proven parenting principles for raising connected and compassionate children. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc.

Stiffelman, S. (2015). Parenting with presence. Novato, CA: New World Library.