By Dr. Oscar Bukstein:
The recent events surrounding charges of child abuse for Adrian Peterson, a member of the Minnesota Vikings football team, raise a number of important issues for parents. Mr. Peterson’s initial explanation that this was the way that he was disciplined as a child reminds us that physical punishment was the norm in past generations and continues to be popular among many, particularly here in Texas. However, just because “that’s the way we have always done it” may be the reason, physical punishment is not always the best way or even a good way of disciplining children.
Physical punishment appears to be affective in immediately stopping a given behavior. Beyond this short-term benefit, there does not appear to be any advantages to physical punishment. Research on the consequences of physical punishment indicate that physical punishment is associated with bullying of other children, aggressive and other behavior problems, poor self-esteem, as well as delivering the message that hitting is ok.
Parents are almost always ambivalent about hitting their children even when sanctioned by the community. Physical punishment is often delivered when the parent is angry and hence has less control over the severity of the physical punishment. Even among those who advocate physical discipline, such discipline requires a calm parent, an open hand (without a weapon such as a paddle or “swtich”), and no injury inflicted upon the child. Unfortunately, the conditions surrounding the child’s violation and punishment very often involve an angry parent, possibly wielding a weapon, hence adding to the chance of injury to the child. Few of the parents of the thousands of children who are victims of abuse each year intended to abuse their children. These considerations have led two of the leading child health organizations - the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry - to advocate against the use of physical punishment for children.
Because there are better options of discipline than physical punishment (such as rules, clear limit-setting, and non-physical consequences), physical punishment does not have to be used to discipline children. However, parents may only know what their own parent’s behavior has taught them. Parents need to have access to evidence-based parenting programs that teach non-physical discipline practices. Such programs have numerous benefits including decreases in parental depression; increases in parental confidence; and decreases in social, emotional, and behavioral problems in children.
Depelchin Children’s Center offers parent management training:
Other resources include a list of Parent Education Programs in the Greater Houston Area provided by Children At Risk’s Center for Parenting and Family Well-Being: