For Release: April 6, 1998


ATLANTA-A new policy from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) addresses how pediatricians can counsel parents on the discipline of their children, including the use of positive reinforcement and the consequences of spanking. The policy, announced today at the AAP Spring Session in Atlanta, appears in this month’s Pediatrics, the journal of the AAP.

The AAP states that an effective discipline strategy requires three important components: a positive, supportive and loving relationship between the parent(s) and child; use of positive reinforcement to increase desired behaviors; and applying punishment to reduce or eliminate undesired behaviors.

All components must be functioning well for discipline to be successful. The AAP also says pediatricians should discourage parents from using spanking as part of their discipline strategy because it has negative consequences and is no more effective than other approaches for dealing with undesired behavior in children.

The AAP recommends that physicians counsel parents to develop alternatives to spanking, such as time outs and removal of privileges. Mark Wolraich, M.D., FAAP, chair of the AAP Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health, notes that the positive components of discipline must be in place in order for punishment to be effective. He says that, for example, ‘time out’ is not a consequence if there is nothing positive about ‘time in,’ or time spent with parents. This helps to illustrate why loving parental attention is important in teaching children about desirable and undesirable behaviors.

The policy cites research stating that 90 percent of American families reported having used spanking as a means of discipline at some time, and that most adults were spanked when they were children. However, the AAP gives many reasons for choosing alternatives to spanking, including:

spanking teaches children that aggressive behavior is a solution to conflict and has been associated with increased aggression in preschool and school-age children; use of spanking and threats of spanking can alter the parent-child relationship, which makes discipline substantially more difficult when physical punishment is no longer an option (such as in the teen years); and although spanking may immediately reduce or stop an undesired behavior, its effectiveness decreases with repeated use.
The AAP offers specific strategies for parents and caregivers to use in helping children learn positive behaviors, such as: helping children learn to use words to express their feelings; providing choices to children when options exist and then helping them learn to evaluate the potential consequences of their choices; and modeling orderly, predictable behavior and collaborative conflict resolution strategies.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 53,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults.

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