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Spanking 3-Year-Olds Ups Risk of Increased Aggression Later

Last Updated: April 12, 2010.

When mothers employ even mild corporal punishment, such as spanking, to discipline their 3-year-olds, those children are more likely to display more aggressive behavior by the age of 5, even when confounding factors are accounted for, according to research published online April 12 in Pediatrics.

MONDAY, April 12 (HealthDay News) -- When mothers employ even mild corporal punishment, such as spanking, to discipline their 3-year-olds, those children are more likely to display more aggressive behavior by the age of 5, even when confounding factors are accounted for, according to research published online April 12 in Pediatrics.

Catherine A. Taylor, Ph.D., of Tulane University in New Orleans, and colleagues studied data from 2,461 participants in a population-based, birth cohort study of children born in 20 large U.S. cities. The researchers assessed maternal reports of corporal punishment, children's aggressive behaviors, and confounding factors, including maternal child mistreatment, neglect, intimate partner aggression victimization, stress and depression.

The team found that the mother's use of spanking more than twice in the previous month when the child was 3 years old was associated with an increased risk of higher levels of aggressive behavior (adjusted odds ratio, 1.49) when the child was 5, even when controlling for the child's level of aggression at age 3 and other potential confounding factors and demographic features.

"Despite American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations to the contrary, most parents in the United States approve of and have used corporal punishment as a form of child discipline. The current findings suggest that even minor forms of corporal punishment, such as spanking, increase risk for increased child aggressive behavior. Importantly, these findings cannot be attributed to possible confounding effects of a host of other maternal parenting risk factors," the authors write.

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