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Why corporal punishment for children doesn't work–and what to do instead

I wanted to understand why so many people still hit their children and if this approach had any merit.

Why corporal punishment for children doesn't work–and what to do instead

I was stunned when I recently read an article reporting that 19 American states—mostly in the South—still allow corporal punishment in schools.

When I brought up this topic to my husband, he immediately questioned where I was getting this information. Given all the false media these days, he was skeptical. We conducted our own researchafter being raised up north, this was completely new territory for us.

I wanted to understand why so many people still hit their children and if this approach had any merit.

What exactly is corporal punishment?

Corporal punishment is not a term we hear every day. It's not exactly a topic that comes up during playdates and moms' night out.

According to The National Association of School Psychologists, corporal punishment is, "the intentional infliction of pain or discomfort and/or the use of physical force upon a student with the intention of causing the student to experience bodily pain so as to correct or punish the student's behavior." Common forms in schools and homes include spanking, hitting, and even paddling.

Throughout history, parents and teachers have hit children to try and teach them a lesson. Until the end of the last century, physical punishment of children was generally accepted worldwide. But then more information became available about the harm it causes to children both in the short and long term, which led to about 50 countries banning corporal punishment in all settings including the home.

However, it still goes on in the United States, and in fact, many parents think that's perfectly fine. In 2012, a national survey found that more than half of women and three-quarters of men in the United States believe a child sometimes needs to be spanked.

Does it work?

Putting history, culture, tradition – and even law – aside, let's just focus on what the scientific evidence tells us about the effectiveness of hitting our kids as a disciplinary tool.

Supporters often rely on personal anecdotes to argue that school corporal punishment, for example, improves students' behavior and achievement. Parents who hit their kids typically claim that they were struck during their childhood but turned out okay. However, there have been no studies reporting any benefits from hitting children.

On the other hand, a recent report issued in June 2016 assessed more than 250 studies exploring the relationship between physically punishing our kids and a wide range of outcomes. The results of the numerous studies reveal the following negative effects of corporal punishment:

Increased aggression

Children who are hit are more likely to be aggressive toward their peers, approve of violence in relationships, bully others, and be aggressive toward their parents. Researchers from Tulane University found that children who are spanked often, starting at age three, are more likely to show aggressive behavior by the time they're five than children who are not spanked.

Aggression is a reflexive response to experiencing pain. When children grow up with the understanding that violence is an appropriate way to get what you want, they'll mimic this behavior. In several surveys, children explain how they feel aggressive after being physically punished.

Exacerbated bad behavior

According to Sandra Graham-Bermann of the Child Violence and Trauma Laboratory at the University of Michigan, spanking may seem to stop bad behavior at the time, but in the long term it only makes the child behave worse.

In fact, corporal punishment has been linked to negative behaviors like bullying, lying, cheating, running away, truancy, school behavioral problems, and involvement in crime.

Mental health challenges

Hitting not only causes physical pain, but lingering emotional pain as well. It's been associated with behavioral disorders, anxiety disorders, depression, suicide attempts, alcohol and drug dependency, low self-esteem, hostility, and emotional instability.

Researchers observed that children's brains are actually altered when they are frequently spanked (at least once a month for more than three years). These children had less gray matter in certain areas of the prefrontal cortex, which has been linked to depression, addiction, and other mental health disorders.

Reduced cognitive ability

The change in gray matter also affects a child's IQ, decision making, and thought processing capabilities. Some studies also showed that adults who experienced corporal punishment as children were less likely to graduate from college and have successful careers.

Ongoing cycle of abuse

A 2011 study published in Child Abuse and Neglect confirms that children who are hit are more likely to use the action to solve problems in the future, and use this same approach with their own children. Corporal punishment perpetuates itself and it's very difficult to break that cycle.

Analysis of several studies found that corporal punishment can ruin the relationship between parents and children because it makes children feel rejected by their parents and teaches them to fear and avoid their parents.

What are some safer, more effective discipline options?


Experts from key organizations around the world offer the following healthier, more productive options for disciplining our children:

Develop verbal communication

The most important step is to develop an open, honest line of communication with your children from a very young age so that they'll become emotionally intelligent.

This is a skill that helps them recognize, direct, and positively express their emotions, allowing them to overcome challenges and build stronger relationships throughout their lives.

Present consequences

Show your children what'll happen if they do not behave. Be specific about the consequences that will result because of their behavior. For example, when children throw their toys, explain how the toys can break and how sad that will make them feel.

Take away privileges


Tell your children that if they do not cooperate, they will have to give something up, like a favorite toy. The American Academy of Pediatrics provides the following guidelines when you use this approach:

Never take away something your child truly needs, such as a meal.

Choose something that your child values that is related to the misbehavior.

For children under seven, withholding privileges works best if done immediately.

Follow through on your promise.

Give a time-out

The goal of a time-out is to separate children from unacceptable behavior to allow them to pause and cool off. It tends to work well when a specific rule has been broken. It's most effective for children ages two to five, but can be used throughout childhood. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests these tips for making time-out most effective:

Set rules in advance; decide which behaviors will lead to a time-out and explain this to your child.

Choose a consistent time-out spot that is a boring place with no distractions.

Explain the reason for the time-out. Be very specific about what they did to need a time-out. Let them know how their behavior made your feel.

Set a time limit based on age. A rule of thumb is 1 minute of time-out for every year of your child's age.

Resume activity when the time is up and do not dwell on what they did wrong.

Try mindfulness

This new form of discipline is now a huge success at several schools. Try creating a calm corner in your home where your children can spend time reflecting on their behavior.

Whether or not you hit your kid is ultimately your own business, especially in a country that does not necessarily consider it illegal to physically harm an innocent child. But before you raise your hand, consider the many proven negative impacts that it can have on your child – now, and for the rest of their lives. Keep in mind that the parenting decisions we make today influence the generations of tomorrow.

[Update, September 13, 2018: This article was originally published in 2016. The link to the news article in the intro and stats on how many states allow corporal punishment in schools has been updated for 2018.]

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These challenges from Nike PLAYlist are exactly what my child needs to stay active

Plus a fall family bucket list to keep everyone moving all season long.

While it's hard to name anything that the pandemic hasn't affected, one thing that is constantly on my mind is how to keep my family active despite spending more time indoors. Normally, this time of year would be spent at dance and gymnastics lessons, meeting up with friends for games and field trips, and long afternoon playdates where we can all let off a little steam. Instead, we find ourselves inside more often than ever before—and facing down a long winter of a lot more of the same.

I started to search for an outlet that would get my girls moving safely while we social distance, but at first I didn't find a lot of solutions. Online videos either weren't terribly engaging for my active kids, or the messaging wasn't as positive around the power of movement as I would like. Then I found the Nike PLAYlist.

I always knew that Nike could get me moving, but I was so impressed to discover this simple resource for parents. PLAYlist is an episodic sports show on YouTube that's made for kids and designed to teach them the power of expressing themselves through movement. The enthusiastic kid hosts immediately captured my daughter's attention, and I love how the physical activity is organically incorporated in fun activities without ever being specifically called out as anything other than play. For example, this segment where the kids turn yoga into a game of Paper Scissors Rock? Totally genius. The challenges from #TheReplays even get my husband and me moving more when our daughter turns it into a friendly family competition. (Plus, I love the play-inspired sportswear made just for kids!)

My daughter loves the simple Shake Ups at the beginning of the episode and is usually hopping off the couch to jump, dance and play within seconds. One of her favorites is this Sock Flinger Shake Up activity from the Nike PLAYlist that's easy for me to get in on too. Even after we've put away the tablet, the show inspires her to create her own challenges throughout the day.

The best part? The episodes are all under 5 minutes, so they're easy to sprinkle throughout the day whenever we need to work out some wiggles (without adding a lot of screen time to our schedule).

Whether you're looking for simple alternatives to P.E. and sports or simply need fun ways to help your child burn off energy after a day of socially distanced school, Nike's PLAYlist is a fun, kid-friendly way to get everyone moving.

Need more movement inspiration for fall? Here are 5 ways my family is getting up and getting active this season:

1. Go apple picking.

Truly, it doesn't really feel like fall until we've picked our first apple. (Or had our first bite of apple cider donut!) Need to burn off that extra cinnamon-sugar energy? Declare a quick relay race up the orchard aisle—winner gets first to pick of apples at home.

To wear: These Printed Training Tights are perfect for when even a casual walk turns into a race (and they help my daughter scurry up a branch for the big apples).

2. Visit a pumpkin patch.

We love to pick up a few locally grown pumpkins to decorate or cook with each year. Challenge your child to a "strongman" contest and see who can lift the heaviest pumpkin while you're there.

To wear: Suit up your little one in comfort with this Baby Full Zip Coverall so you're ready for whatever adventures the day brings.

3. Have a nature scavenger hunt.

Scavenger hunts are one of my favorite ways to keep my daughter preoccupied all year long. We love to get outside and search for acorns, leaves and pinecones as part of our homeschool, but it's also just a great way to get her exercising those gross motor skills whenever the wiggles start to build up.

To wear: It's not truly fall until you break out a hoodie. This cozy Therma Elite Kids Hoodie features a mesh overlay to release heat while your child plays.

4. Have a touch-football game.

Tip for parents with very little kids: It doesn't have to last as long as a real football game. 😂 In fact, staging our own mini-games is one of our favorite ways to get everyone up and moving in between quarters during Sunday football, and I promise we all sleep better that night.

To wear: From impromptu games of tag to running through our favorite trails, these kids' Nike Air Zoom Speed running shoes are made to cover ground all season long.

5. Create an indoor obstacle course.

Pretending the floor is lava was just the beginning. See how elaborate your personal course can get, from jumping on the couch to rolling under the coffee table to hopping down the hallway on one foot.

To wear: These ready-for-any-activity Dri-FIT Tempo Shorts are perfect for crawling, hopping and racing—and cuddling up when it's time to rest.

This article was sponsored by Nike. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

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Tips parents need to know about poor air quality and caring for kids with asthma

There are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

When wildfires struck the West Coast in September 2020, there was a lot for parents to worry about. For parents of children with asthma, though, the danger could be even greater. "There are more than 400 toxins that are present in wildfire smoke. That can activate the immune system in ways that aren't helpful by both causing an inflammatory response and distracting the immune system from fighting infection," says Amy Oro, MD, a pediatrician at Stanford Children's Health. "When smoke enters into the lungs, it causes irritation and muscle spasms of the smooth muscle that is around the small breathing tubes in the lungs. This can lead to difficulty with breathing and wheezing. It's really difficult on the lungs."

With the added concern of COVID-19 and the effect it can have on breathing, many parents feel unsure about how to keep their children protected. The good news is that there are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

Here are tips parents need to know about how to deal with poor air quality when your child has asthma.

Minimize smoke exposure.

Especially when the air quality index reaches dangerous levels, it's best to stay indoors as much as possible. You can find out your area's AQI at AirNow.gov. An under 50 rating is the safest, but between 100-150 is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, such as children with asthma. "If you're being told to stay indoors, listen. If you can, keep the windows and doors closed," Oro says.

Do your best to filter the air.

According to Oro, a HEPA filter is your best bet to effectively clean pollutants from the air. Many homes are equipped with a built-in HEPA filter in their air conditioning systems, but you can also get a canister filter. Oro says her family (her husband and children all suffer from asthma) also made use of a hack from the New York Times and built their own filter by duct taping a HEPA furnace filter to the front of a box fan. "It was pretty disgusting what we accumulated in the first 20 hours in our fan," she says.

Avoid letting your child play outside or overly exert themselves in open air.

"Unfortunately, cloth masks don't do very much [to protect you from the smoke pollution]," Oro says. "You really need an N95 mask, and most of those have been allocated toward essential workers." To keep at-risk children safer, Oro recommends avoiding brisk exercise outdoors. Instead, set up an indoor obstacle course or challenge your family to jumping jacks periodically to keep everyone moving safely.

Know the difference between smoke exposure and COVID-19.

"COVID-19 can have a lot of the same symptoms—dry cough, sore throat, shortness of breath and chest pain could overlap. But what COVID and other viruses generally cause are fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea and body aches. Those would tell you it's not just smoke exposure," Oro says. When a child has been exposed to smoke, they often complain of a "scrape" in their throat, burning eyes, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain or wheezing. If the child has asthma, parents should watch for a flare of symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing or a tight sensation in their chest.

Unfortunately, not much is known about long-term exposure to wildfire smoke on a healthy or compromised immune system, but elevated levels of air pollution have been associated with increased COVID-19 rates. That's because whenever there's an issue with your immune system, it distracts your immune system from fighting infections and you have a harder time fighting off viruses. Limiting your exposure to wildfire smoke is your best bet to keep immune systems strong.

Have a plan in place if you think your child is suffering from smoke exposure.

Whatever type of medication your child takes for asthma, make sure you have it on-hand and that your child is keeping up with regular doses. Contact your child's pediatrician, especially if your area has a hazardous air quality—they may want to adjust your child's medication schedule or dosage to prevent an attack. Oro also recommends that, if your child has asthma, it might be helpful to have a stethoscope or even a pulse oximeter at home to help diagnose issues with your pediatrician through telehealth.

Most importantly, don't panic.

In some cases, social distancing and distance learning due to COVID may be helping to keep sensitive groups like children with asthma safer. Oro says wildfires in past years have generally resulted in more ER visits for children, but the most recent fires haven't seen the same results. "A lot of what we've seen is that the smoke really adversely affects adults, especially older adults over 65," Oro says. "Children tend to be really resilient."

This article was sponsored by Stanford Children's Health. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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100 unusual + surprising baby name ideas

From Adelia to Ziggy.

Our list of 100 baby names that should be on everyone's list this year includes more choices than in the past of names that are obscure and surprising. That's because there are so many more unusual baby names coming into widespread use and baby namers have become a lot more adventurous.

Expectant parents do not need to be told to move beyond Jennifer and Jason. Their thinking about names has evolved to the point that the most useful thing we can do is offer a large menu of intriguing choices.

Here are our picks for the 100 best surprising + unusual baby names now.


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