Spanking kids to correct their behavior may do more harm than good, suggests the findings of a new study.

The study, conducted by researchers at Columbia University, reveals that physical punishment to inculcate discipline in children adversely impact their vocabulary and behavior in later life.

Research Methodology
For the purpose of the study, researchers analyzed data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFS). The FFS, conducted by researchers at Princeton and Columbia Universities, is a population-based, birth cohort study of close to 5,000 children born in 20 large cities of the United States between 1998 and 2000.

The FFS data is collected by interviewing mothers shortly after delivering the baby and thereafter when the child is 1, 3, 5, and 9 years old. The said study collects comprehensive data from fathers.

Researchers found that 52 percent of mothers and 33 percent of fathers spanked their children at age 5. The study established that children spanked regularly at age 5 demonstrated poor vocabulary scores at age 9. Such children also exhibited “higher levels of acting-out behavior problems at age 9.”

“This finding is consistent with what has been found in the literature, but is of added importance given the detailed nature of the data we were using which allowed us to control for a host of other factors that also affect children’s behavior, including their behavior at younger ages,” said Michael MacKenzie, lead author of the study.

Researchers controlled numerous factors including maternal IQ, depression, anxiety, family background income, family structure and education while arriving at the conclusions.

“The parent is inadvertently teaching the child that hitting, or being aggressive, is a way to solve problems.” said Catherine Taylor, associate professor of global community health and behavioral sciences at Tulane University School of Public Health & Tropical Medicine in New Orleans. Taylor was not involved in the study.

The researchers recommend that parents should resort to ‘positive ways’ of correcting behavior in children rather than resorting to spanking.

The American Academy of Pediatrics too strongly recommends that parents should refrain from physical punishment as a means to discipline children. Thirty-two countries categorically forbid physical punishment of children by parents.

Findings of the study have been published in the journal Pediatrics.

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