So, here's a shocker: A new study has confirmed that hitting kids will lead to kids who are more likely to hit others.

Wow, I didn't see that coming, did you? (Please note the dripping sarcasm.)

Seriously, now (because this topic could not be more serious) I know from first-hand experience how difficult it can be to discipline a child. But I have never been a supporter of spanking or other forms of corporal punishment for kids. And I'm glad to see that there is a new study that provides the strongest evidence to date against the use of spanking.

Researchers at Tulane University assessed nearly 2,500 kids and found that those who were spanked more frequently at age 3 were more likely to be aggressive by age 5. The research supports earlier work on the pitfalls of corporal punishment, including a study by Duke University researchers that revealed that infants who were spanked at 12 months scored lower on cognitive tests at age 3.

But even though I agreed with the conclusion of the Tulane study, I was skeptical about the results at first. I mean, maybe there are other factors to consider that led to the early spanking and the aggressive behavior later on. But as I kept reading, I learned that the Tulane study was the first to control simultaneously for these other variables that I was thinking about. Variables such as acts of neglect by the mother, violence or aggression between the parents, maternal stress and depression, the mother's use of alcohol and drugs, and even whether the mother considered abortion while pregnant with the child — variables that are most likely to confuse the association between spanking and later aggressive behavior. 

Researchers found that while each of these factors contributed to a child's aggressive behavior at age 5, they could not explain all of the violent tendencies at that age. Further, the positive connection between spanking and aggression remained strong, even after these factors had been accounted for.

According to the study's authors, the odds of a child being more aggressive at age 5 increased by 50 percent if he had been spanked more than twice in the month before the study began. And because the researchers controlled for varying levels of natural aggression in children, they are confident that "it's not just that children who are more aggressive are more likely to be spanked."

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not endorse spanking for any reason, citing its lack of long-term effectiveness as a behavior-changing tactic. Instead the AAP promote strategies such as "time-outs" when children misbehave, which focus on giving both parents and children a "cooling-off" period and giving kids to reflect on their behavior and the consequences of their actions. 

I know ... it's not always easy, but it's the right thing to do. Spanking won't get you anywhere in the long run, and it's more likely to continue a cycle of aggression for your child. So for their sake, and for yours, the next time your kids are acting up, give yourself a "time out" and find another way to make your point.

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