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Spanking Toddlers Can Lead To Aggressive Behavior

April 12, 2010

Children who were spanked as toddlers are twice as likely to become aggressive or destructive as they grow older, a team of university researchers claim in a new study.

The findings were published online in the April 12 edition of the Pediatrics as “Mothers’ Spanking of 3-Year-Old Children and Subsequent Risk of Children’s Aggressive Behavior.” The research was completed by Catherine A. Taylor and Janet C. Rice of Tulane University, Jennifer A. Manganello of the University of Albana, and Shawna J. Lee of Wayne State University.

Their goal, according to an abstract accompanying the research, “was to examine the association between the use of corporal punishment (CP) against 3-year-old children and subsequent aggressive behavior among those children.”

As such, they polled over 2,400 mothers of three to five year old children between 1998 and 2005 and asked them about their youngsters’ behavior patterns as well as their own use of spanking as punishment. Unlike previous research in the field, the researchers also asked about other factors, including possible physical or psychological mistreatment, stress, depression, substance abuse, or other related factors had been considered as possible catalysts for aggressive behavior.

Their findings, according to the abstract, show that “frequent use of CP (i.e., mother’s use of spanking more than twice in the previous month) when the child was 3 years of age was associated with increased risk for higher levels of child aggression when the child was 5 years of age”¦ even with controlling for the child’s level of aggression at age 3 and the aforementioned potential confounding factors and key demographic features.”

“Despite American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations to the contrary, most parents in the United States approve of and have used CP as a form of child discipline,” the scientists state in their conclusion. “The current findings suggest that even minor forms of CP, such as spanking, increase risk for increased child aggressive behavior. Importantly, these findings cannot be attributed to possible confounding effects of a host of other maternal parenting risk factors.”

“Causality is extremely difficult to prove”¦ [but] 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,” Taylor, the study’s lead author, told Frederik Joelving of Reuters Health on Monday. “Children need guidance and discipline. However, parents should focus on positive, non-physical forms of discipline and avoid the use of spanking.”

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