Punishing children with a smack has long been a divisive topic, but while some parents may deem it an appropriate form of discipline, new research has revealed smacking can take its toll on youngsters’ mental health.
A new report has revealed that children who are smacked by their parents are more likely to develop aggressive behaviours, and are at greater risk of developing mental health health disorders.
The latest guidance comes from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), who updated its advice on ways to discipline children in a new policy statement, saying parents should also avoid “verbal abuse” which could cause “shame or humiliation”.
The AAP argued all forms of corporal punishment, including yelling at or shaming children, are only minimally effective in the short-term and can have a detrimental effect in the long-term.
“Corporal punishment can bring on a vicious cycle of escalating poor behavior and more severe punishment,” said the AAP.
“Children who experience repeated use of corporal punishment tend to develop more aggressive behaviours, increased aggression in school, and an increased risk of mental health disorders and cognitive problems.
“In cases where warm parenting practices occurred alongside corporal punishment, the link between harsh discipline and adolescent conduct disorder and depression remained.”
Instead of punishment including smacking and yelling, the AAP recommends parents adopt positive reinforcement strategies as a primary means of teaching youngsters acceptable behaviour.
The association advised, “For example, parents can learn that young children crave attention, and telling a child, “I love it when you …” is an easy means of reinforcing desired behavior.”
It also recommended using a ‘time-out’ strategy for when a child breaks a specific rule, with parents advised to follow ‘one minute per year of age’ as a good rule of thumb.
What are the laws on smacking children?
Hitting children as a form of discipline is currently banned in schools, but parents and carers can legally ‘smack’ children in the home providing it is deemed “reasonable punishment”, under section 50 of the Children’s Act 2004.
Hitting a child in a way which causes wounding, actual bodily harm, grievous bodily harm or child cruelty are all illegal.
While corporal punishment was initially banned in state schools in England in 1986, with a full ban taking effect in all UK schools by 2003, smacking has yet to be made illegal within the home.
But there are increasing calls for a complete ban on physical discipline in England, with the Association of Educational Psychologists having put forward a motion to the TUC Congress earlier this year.
In Scotland, the practice is already due to be made illegal and Wales may also potentially follow suit.