AAP policy statement on Effective Discipline for Children

The policy statement was released in December 2018. The focus of the conclusions is that corporal punishment (i.e., spanking) was ineffective as a short-term disciplinary method and likely contributes to anger and aggressive behaviors as a long-term consequence. This is the first AAP policy update on this subject since 1998 and the conclusions are now more evidenced based. Fortunately, there has been a gradual decline in the use of corporal punishment as a disciplinary method during this time period in our society. So, what are the recommended alternatives? This is an age-old and ongoing process (and discussion). A synopsis is outlined below, and a more thorough discussion is linked to Healthychildren.org.

Dr Lee’s take: This is one of the more challenging areas in pediatrics to discuss because many of the issues involved are sociological or cultural. From my pediatric standpoint, having a realistic expectation of your child’s developmental abilities and having insight into your own feelings “in the heat of the battle” are very important. Always being in control (you are the parent in the room), remember that the behavior is the problem, not the child and identify with the child’s feelings (don’t dismiss the cause) are take home messages I offer. Effective discipline measures may be the central theme here, but the big picture is about positive parenting as a model or philosophy of parenting and the importance of this is central to our core initiatives.

What’s the Best Way to Discipline My Child?

As a parent, one of your jobs to teach your child to behave. It’s a job that takes time and patience. But, it helps to learn the effective and healthy discipline strategies.

Here are some tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) on the best ways to help your child learn acceptable behavior as they grow. 

10 Healthy Discipline Strategies That Work

The AAP recommends positive discipline strategies that effectively teach children to manage their behavior and keep them from harm while promoting healthy development. These include:

  1. Show and tell. Teach children right from wrong with calm words and actions. Model behaviors you would like to see in your children.
  2. Set limits. Have clear and consistent rules your children can follow. Be sure to explain these rules in age-appropriate terms they can understand.
  3. Give consequences. Calmly and firmly explain the consequences if they don’t behave. For example, tell her that if she does not pick up her toys, you will put them away for the rest of the day. Be prepared to follow through right away. Don’t give in by giving them back after a few minutes. But remember, never take away something your child truly needs, such as a meal.
  4. Hear them out. Listening is important. Let your child finish the story before helping solve the problem. Watch for times when misbehavior has a pattern, like if your child is feeling jealous. Talk with your child about this rather than just giving consequences.
  5. Give them your attention. The most powerful tool for effective discipline is attention—to reinforce good behaviors and discourage others. Remember, all children want their parent’s attention.
  6. Catch them being good. Children need to know when they do something bad–and when they do something good. Notice good behavior and point it out, praising success and good tries. Be specific (for example, “Wow, you did a good job putting that toy away!”).
  7. Know when not to respond. As long as your child isn’t doing something dangerous and gets plenty of attention for good behavior, ignoring bad behavior can be an effective way of stopping it. Ignoring bad behavior can also teach children natural consequences of their actions. For example, if your child keeps dropping her cookies on purpose, she will soon have no more cookies left to eat. If she throws and breaks her toy, she will not be able to play with it. It will not be long before she learns not to drop her cookies and to play carefully with her toys.
  8. Be prepared for trouble. Plan ahead for situations when your child might have trouble behaving. Prepare them for upcoming activities and how you want them to behave.
  9. Redirect bad behavior. Sometimes children misbehave because they are bored or don’t know any better. Find something else for your child to do.
  10. Call a time-out. A time-out can be especially useful when a specific rule is broken. This discipline tool works best by warning children they will get a time out if they don’t stop, reminding them what they did wrong in as few words―and with as little emotion―as possible, and removing them from the situation for a pre-set length of time (1 minute per year of age is a good rule of thumb). With children who are at least 3 years old, you can try letting their children lead their own time-out instead of setting a timer. You can just say, “Go to time out and come back when you feel ready and in control.” This strategy, which can help the child learn and practice self-management skills, also works well for older children and teens.

Spanking and Harsh Words are Harmful and Don’t Work. Here’s Why:

The AAP policy statement, “Effective Discipline to Raise Healthy Children,” highlights why it’s important to focus on teaching good behavior rather than punishing bad behavior.  Research shows that spanking, slapping and other forms of physical punishment don’t work well to correct a child’s behavior. The same holds true for yelling at or shaming a child. Beyond being ineffective, harsh physical and verbal punishments can also damage a child’s long-term physical and mental health.

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