KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Does spanking them make our kids less intelligent? A new study suggests that it does. It also finds a link between spanking and child abuse. Spanking is still a popular form of discipline for parents. A Child Magazine survey found 80-percent of parents admitted to spanking. But researchers say this new study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal is significant because it looks at 20 years of data and basically finds no good reason to spank kids.
"You don't teach people how to do something by hitting them for doing something else," says Dr. Edward Christophersen, a child psychologist with Children's Mercy Hospital.
He has long argued what this recent study concluded: that spanking has no lasting positive results. And in fact it can lead to real harm. The study found 75-percent of the time kids were abused, it started out as a spanking.
"What happens with punishment is if it doesn't work, you escalate it," Christophersen said.
He's not so sure about the study suggesting spanking affects intelligence because he believes there are more socio-economic factors at play, but he believes spanking doesn't exactly make for the best learning environment.
"Right after a beating very few people say I'd like to go read a book now," he said.
So if spanking is bad, how should parents discipline their kids? Heather Waterfield is a child behavior expert from the Family Conservancy. She said rather than getting angry, parents need to have some tools ready, like distraction and redirection.
"Distraction is just they're doing something inappropriate. Distract them to something appropriate to do," she said. "Redirection is, say the child is throwing blocks, redirect them to throwing something appropriate, like balls."
Waterfield said to be careful about focusing on overusing the words "no," "don't," and "stop." Instead of saying "don't run," she suggests saying "please walk." Waterfield said children sometimes misbehave to get attention, so ignoring them is sometimes best. When a child is acting appropriately, it's a good idea to acknowledge positive behavior.
"Something as simple as, 'I really like how you're playing with your brother or sister right now,'" she said.
But the experts agree that changing adults' behavior is really the hardest part. Christophersen said whenever he does media interviews telling parents not to spank, he always hears the outcry, "I'll spank my kids if I want to!" He said his response is simple: "All I want them to know is it doesn't do any good."
Want some more tips for parents who want to avoid spanking? Click here.