Story by: Sara Sidery on November 8, 2022
As children head back to school, some families may encounter additional behavioral issues at school or in the home. Pediatricians are reminding parents that spanking is not an effective method of discipline.
Our child abuse pediatricians help treat and prevent child abuse and neglect. Members of our Child Protection Team are available from Sundays at 4 p.m. through Fridays at 5 p.m.
Spanking as a form of discipline is associated with poor health outcomes, such as mental health issues, substance abuse issues, and physical health issues (i.e. heart attacks and increased rates of cancer). Research shows that children who were spanked, even if they were not injured, have similar outcomes as children who were physically abused.
“We can use this information to make better decisions for our children,” said Melissa L. Currie, M.D., child abuse pediatrician and director of Norton Children’s Pediatric Protection Specialists, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine. “Hitting, slapping or any kind of physical punishment has a lot of negative outcomes later in life.”
Spanking is defined as striking a child on the buttock(s) using a hand — without leaving injury — for the purpose of physical punishment or correcting a child’s behavior.
What doesn’t count as spanking? If a child has slap marks, belt marks, or physical injuries, that is no longer considered spanking. Striking a child in a way that leaves a mark or causes injuries is physical abuse. Spanking does not leave bruises. Spanking is also different from hitting a child in the face, or hitting a child with a belt or a wooden spoon.
State laws protect children from physical abuse and physical assault. It does not matter if children act out or disobey an adult.
“Some parents may think, ‘It’s my child and I can do what I want,’ and that’s not true,” Dr. Currie said. “Under the law, a child is entitled to not have violence inflicted against them.”
Instead of using physical punishment or spanking as discipline, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says parents should use various methods of positive discipline.
In April 2022, state officials and Norton Children’s announced $6 million from the Kentucky General Assembly aimed at reducing the number of child deaths and injuries related to abuse, with an additional $2 million committed to the initiative by the Norton Children’s Hospital Foundation, thanks to a lead gift from board member Bill Ehrig and his wife Colleen, as well as generous donations from the community.
The funds will support Norton Children’s Pediatric Protection Specialists, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, and will help establish Norton Children’s as a child protection Center of Excellence, as defined by the Children’s Hospital Association. The center will serve all counties in Kentucky. The initiative includes the hiring of additional doctors, nurses, psychologists and other experts specifically trained in identifying, treating and preventing abuse. It also will expand mental health, therapy services, parenting classes and prevention efforts available to families in need. The center will be the only program of its kind in Kentucky.
Even if you’re not sure, you are required by law to report suspected abuse or neglect. Anonymous calls are accepted.
Kentucky: Call (877) KY-SAFE-1/(877) 597-2331
Indiana: (800) 800-5556
If a child is in immediate danger, call 911.