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Parents blog: Does spanking cause aggression?

If a child is spanked at 12 months, he or she is more likely to show aggression as a toddler, according to a recent study conducted at the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University.

Researchers found that children who were spanked regularly as 1-year-olds also had lower scores on cognitive tests at age 3 compared to those whose parents didn’t believe in corporal punishment, according to a report on the study by HealthDay.

The researchers examined data on about 2,500 children from low-income families. Among their findings:

•About one-third of mothers of 1-year-olds reported they or someone in their household had spanked their child in the last week, compared to half of the mothers of 2- and 3-year-olds.

•Children who were spanked at age 1 had more aggressive behaviors at age 2 and performed worse on measures of thinking abilities at age3.

•Verbal punishment was not associated with negative effects if the mother was otherwise attentive, loving and supportive.

The connection between spanking and cognitive development remains unclear to researchers. Some say parents who use corporal punishment are less likely to reason with their children, which can hinder development since it’s important for children to learn how to use their words to explain their feelings.

Because children tend to mimic parental behaviors, it’s possible spanking “creates a model for using aggression,” says Elizabeth T. Gershoff, an associate professor in the department of human development and family sciences at University of Texas at Austin.

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