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Hug It Out: Experts Warn Against Physically Punishing Children

Photo: New research shows that maternal comforting can't compensate for emotional damage and stress caused by physical punishment of a child. Photo credit: hotblack/morguefile.com
Photo: New research shows that maternal comforting can't compensate for emotional damage and stress caused by physical punishment of a child. Photo credit: hotblack/morguefile.com
March 30, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – This week, many Tennessee children are rejoicing because it's spring break, but the time off from school may wear on the patience of some parents.

A new study from Duke University warns against resorting to physical punishment.

In the study of 1,000 children and mothers from eight different countries, researchers found that maternal warmth can't dampen the anxiety and aggression connected to physical punishment.

"A parent who is both causing pain to the child by frequently hitting a child, but also saying they love them and hugging them, is very confusing to a child,” says George Holden, a psychology professor at Southern Methodist University. “It's virtually unanimous that physical punishment is not an effective parenting technique."

Instead of spanking or hitting, experts cited in the report recommend examining the causes of the behavior.

For example, asking questions such as, “Is your child hungry? Are you pushing them too hard?”

Holden adds joint problem solving is also effective, as well as modeling good behavior yourself.

Holden is one of the founders of the U.S. Alliance to End the Hitting of Children, which is a group of experts and parents lobbying for the end of physical means of punishment.

"It doesn't promote good, warm, loving relationships, which is what is the most important thing to do in raising a child,” Holden stresses. “Now I'm not arguing one should be lax and not engage in any discipline, but one can easily discipline children without hitting them."

Holden and others recommend encouraging and teaching self-discipline to help children understand and process the behavior that's expected of them.

Supporters of occasional spanking insist it is not child abuse, and with some children it is the only discipline that's proven effective.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN