New advice from AAP says harsh discipline harms developing brains

by Freya Lucas

November 07

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has released an updated policy statement “Effective Discipline to Raise Healthy Children” which focuses on disciplinary tools and their effects on brain development. Findings of relevance to the Australian early childhood education and care (ECEC) context include information that shows raised voices and shaming children can elevate stress hormones and change brain architecture.

 

The primary focus of the policy statement, which will be published in December 2018 (Monday, 5 November online), is on the use of spanking as a disciplinary tool, showing that this increases aggression in young children long term, and is ineffective in teaching a child responsibility and self control. The policy statement also outlines that spanking may cause long term hard by affecting normal brain development.

 

The statement addresses the harm associated with verbal punishments, such as shaming or humiliation. The AAP supports further education for those caring for children on more effective strategies that teach appropriate behaviour and protect the child and others from harm.

 

Robert D. Sege, MD, PhD, and a past member of AAP Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect, an author of the policy statement, expressed concern that in America the use of  corporal punishment remains legal in many states, despite evidence that it harms children physically and mentally, and in terms of how they perform at school and how they interact with other children.

 

The AAP policy statement also outlines research that has shown that striking a child, yelling at or shaming them can elevate stress hormones and lead to changes in the brain’s architecture. Harsh verbal abuse is also linked to mental health problems in preteens and adolescents.

 

“It’s best to begin with the premise of rewarding positive behavior,” said Benjamin S. Siegel, MD, FAAP, co-author of the policy statement. “…set up rules and expectations in advance. The key is to be consistent in following through with them.”

 

Information about setting limits with children, and encouraging positive behaviour are available online.

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