April 12, 2010
Children who are spanked frequently
at age 3 are more likely to be aggressive when they're 5, even when
you account for possible confounding factors, according to a new study
co-authored by Tulane University School of Public Health community
health researcher Catherine Taylor.
The study, "Mothers' Spanking
of 3-Year-Old Children and Subsequent Risk of Children's Aggressive
Behavior," will appear in the May issue of Pediatrics.
"Toddlers that are spanked
more frequently at age 3 are at increased risk for being more
aggressive at age 5," said Taylor, assistant professor of
Community Health Sciences at Tulane and lead author of the study.
"We found this to be true even after taking into account other
factors that might have explained this association such as the
parents' level of stress, depression, use of drugs or alcohol, and the
presence of other aggression within the family."
Study authors asked nearly 2,500
mothers how often they spanked their 3-year-old child in the past
month, as well as questions about their child's level of aggression,
demographic features and eight identified maternal parenting risk
factors. Almost half (45.6 percent) of the mothers reported no
spanking in the previous month, while 27.9 percent reported spanking
one or two times, and 26.5 percent reported spanking more than twice.
Mothers with more parenting risk factors were more likely to spank
frequently. However, even accounting for these potential confounding
factors, frequent spanking at age 3 increased the odds of higher
levels of aggression at age 5. Signs of aggression included behaviors
such as arguing or screaming; cruelty, bullying or meanness to others;
destroys things; fighting and frequently threatening others.
Despite recommendations from the
American Academy of Pediatrics against spanking, most parents in the
United States approve of and have used corporal punishment as a form
of child discipline. The study suggests that even minor forms of
corporal punishment increase the risk for child aggressive behavior.
"There are ways to discipline
children effectively that do not involve hitting them and that can
actually lower their risk for being more aggressive," Taylor
said. "So the good news is, parents don't have to rely on
spanking to get the results that they want. If they avoid spanking but
instead use effective, non-physical types of discipline, their child
has a better chance of being healthier, and behaving better
The study, which is available
co-authored by Jennifer A. Manganello, assistant professor in the
Department of Health Policy, Management and Behavior at the University
at Albany, SUNY, School of Public Health; Shawna J. Lee, assistant
professor at the School of Social Work at Wayne State University and
Janet. C. Rice, associate professor of biostatistics at Tulane.
© Keith Brannon