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Study: Spanking May Do More Harm than Good

February 20, 2012

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Missouri parents who struggle with difficult behavior in their children may cause more harm than good by resorting to spanking. A new report in the "Canadian Medical Association Journal" analyzed 20 years of research into the topic. It concludes that spanking causes aggressive behavior and may even lower a child's intelligence.

Edward Christophersen is a clinical psychologist at Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics who treats young children. He says most of his clients realize that spanking does not work. When some tell him they wind up doing it out of frustration, he advises against it.

"What the research shows is that - 75 percent of the time - when kids are physically abused, their parents started out by spanking them, and it got out of hand."

Because spanking can harm children, researchers working on the Canadian study urge doctors to counsel parents against doing it, even though some people contend that no one should interfere with the way parents discipline their children.

Spanking is not as commonplace as it used to be, Christophersen says. He notes, however, that many people still need parenting skills.

"A lot of families have stopped hitting their kids, but they're substituting yelling at them. I'm not so sure that yelling at them isn't just as injurious."

Christophersen says when your children get on your nerves, it's best to make sure they are safe and then just walk away from them. It's all about giving them the right kinds of attention, he explains.

"Pay attention to the behavior you want to see more of, and ignore the behavior you want to see less of."

When one exasperated mother brought an aggressive child to see him, Christophersen reminded her that kids learn by imitating what they see, so he prescribed some drastic changes.

"No television, no video games, no rough-housing - no rough-housing with neighbors, friends, relatives. When the mom came back two weeks later, she said, 'He's so much calmer.'"

More than 190 countries have ratified a United Nations treaty that protects children "from all forms of physical and mental violence." The only U.N. members who have not signed on are Somalia, Sudan and the United States.

The Canadian study is available at

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - MO