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Health & Parenting

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Spanking Linked to Kids' Later Aggression

Corporal Punishment for 3-Year-Olds May Be Linked to Aggressive Behavior When Kids Get Older

Age-Appropriate Discipline

"The way you discipline depends on the age of the child, and pediatricians should give age-appropriate suggestions about how to discipline toddlers," Hametz tells WebMD. "Some people like time-outs, which remove a child from whatever it is that is overstimulating them."

Another tactic is to reward good behavior. "Praising, pointing out, and literally rewarding good behavior is a better discipline strategy than punishing bad behavior after it happens," she says.

Jennifer E. Lansford, PhD, a research scientist at the Duke University Center for Child and Family Policy in Durham, N.C., agrees. "These findings suggest that spanking has the unintended consequence of increasing children's aggressive behavior, so the implication for parents would be that they should not use corporal punishment, but find other ways of managing their children's misbehavior and promoting good behavior," she says in an email.

This may include teaching about good and bad behavior and trying to prevent misbehavior rather than just reacting to it once it has occurred, she suggests. "Parents can use reward systems such as sticker charts, where a child earns a sticker or something else for good behavior, and special privileges such as extra time with mom or dad can be offered for completing the sticker chart."

Learning Aggressive Attitudes

The new findings make sense to child psychologist Vincent J. Barone, PhD, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine and the director of Developmental and Behavioral Sciences South Clinic at Children's Mercy Hospital and Clinics, also in Kansas City.

"The findings in this research are consistent with what we know about violent experiences for children. Whether a violent video game or corporal punishment, children learn aggressive attitudes and act them out when they are exposed to violence," he says. "Children don't learn peaceful ways of solving conflict when they are exposed to violence."

Barone usually suggests that parents briefly describe the inappropriate behavior and then use a time-out.

Also, he suggests, "use your attention and passion to describe and praise positive behaviors such as cooperation, thoughtfulness, and respect for others."

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