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Children Spanked More By Depressed Dads

March 14, 2011

US researchers said Monday they have found that 40 percent of depressed men said they had spanked their kids in the last month, compared to only 13 percent of men without symptoms of depression, Reuters Health reports.

“This finding is particularly concerning given that children were only 1 year of age in our study,” Dr. R. Neal Davis, of Intermountain Healthcare in Murray, Utah, and colleagues write in the journal Pediatrics.

More than 1,700 new fathers from 20 large cities in the US were interviewed.

“There has been other research showing that moms who are depressed are more likely to spank their kids, but this is the first time it has been shown for dads,” Elizabeth Gershoff, an expert in child development and family relationships at the University of Texas at Austin, told Reuters.

Parents who are depressed have very short fuses,” Gershoff said. “They have much less tolerance when their children misbehave.” Gershoff, who wasn’t involved in the study, explained that mothers should keep an eye on their partner if he is depressed and offer to give the partner a break from the child.

Over 15 million American kids are living with an adult who suffers from depression, according to a 2009 report from the Institute of Medicine. Earlier studies have suggested that spanking may leave a psychological mark on toddlers, allowing aggression and behavioral problems later in life to manifest.

Time-outs and other non-physical punishments are recommended by current child psychologists instead, and both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association discourage spanking.

The study does not prove that depression leads to physical punishment, since a host of other issues are most likely involved. A 2008 US survey showed that 77 percent of men and 65 percent of women agree that a child sometimes deserves a “good hard spanking.”

Despite reasons for this type of aggression towards children such as unemployment, poverty and education, fathers who suffered from depression in the past year were four times as likely to swat their kids as those who felt fine. These fathers were also less likely to read to their children, although they played and sang songs for them just as frequently as their less troubled peers.

Gershoff explains that kids respond very well to warm and responsive parenting although it may be a struggle for depressed parents. Whether treating the depression helps is unclear, but the study suggests it’s possible, she added. “We need to pay more attention to how dads discipline their kids,” Gershoff said. “We should recognize that men do get depressed and that it’s perfectly normal.”

With current economical conditions being what they are, fathers are increasingly spending time directly raising children. During routine doctor visits, it’s important for pediatricians to pay attention to dads’ mental health, explains Dr. Craig Garfield, an assistant pediatrics professor at Northwestern University and co-author of a Pediatrics editorial. Almost 80 percent of depressed and non-depressed dads had recent contact with their child’s doctor, AP reports.

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