Have you ever been in a store, doctor’s office or other public area and heard a parent or caregiver yell in an angry tone of voice, sometimes with profanity, and threaten a child with a spanking or swatting? Then you hear the smack.
Do you say something, or not? We find ourselves hoping the situation will defuse itself or that others will intervene.
Even in medical and nursing schools, little training is provided in how to handle or prevent these types of situations. Wesley Children’s Hospital and our community partners now have an effective approach. A No Hit Zone is coming to a place near you!
Originally created in 2005 by Dr. Lolita McDavid, a pediatrician at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, and implemented nationally, the No Hit Zone concept is simple: It is an environment in which no adult shall hit another adult, no adult shall hit a child, no child shall hit an adult and no child shall hit another child. No Hit Zones support safe, nurturing relationships and environments across the lifespan.
The program, adopted in many healthcare and community settings that serve families, has three primary components:
Initially, professionals and staff are trained. After discussing research about the ineffectiveness of spanking and the associated increased risk for child abuse, they learn intervention skills and practice a variety of case scenarios. This training focuses on de-escalating situations before anyone is hit. Staff develop skills to distract children or offer assistance when stress levels are high and someone is about to “lose it.” The goal is to model behaviors that parents and caregivers can use in similar situations before they feel pushed to use personal violence.
Secondly, No Hit Zone posters, pamphlets and education materials are placed in offices, waiting rooms and public gathering areas. These include information about positive parenting techniques, links to local and national resources and the No Hit Zone policy.
Lastly, facilities promote safe places by placing distractions and child-friendly activities in the physical environment to help prevent the normal misbehavior children exhibit when they are bored, tired, scared or hungry. Agency members learn to model positive options for frustrated parents, for example, “Let’s read or play a game together.”
Although many children who are spanked become happy, healthy adults, current evidence suggests that spanking is not necessary and may result in long-term harm. What we know from decades of research is that spanking does not teach values or how to control impulses. Hitting a child makes a parent look out of control and, because children learn more from how we behave than from what we tell them, hitting teaches children to use violence to solve problems. It is confusing to children if they are told to not hit but then see their parents do it. Spanking makes children sad, angry, and more likely to retaliate with aggression and violence. If you are spanking often, it clearly is not working!
In a 2018 policy statement about effective discipline, The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that parents and other caregivers should not use corporal punishment (hitting and spanking), either in anger or for misbehavior, nor should they use disciplinary strategies, including verbal abuse, that cause shame or humiliation. The AAP encourages teaching families about the ineffectiveness of corporal punishment and its harm to children, and providing them with effective discipline strategies.
Wesley Children’s Hospital, the KU School of Medicine-Wichita Department of Pediatrics, the Child Advocacy Center of Sedgwick County, Wichita State University and Wichita Public Schools, along with the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s office, encourage you to learn more about making our community a safe and healthy environment for people of all ages to thrive!
Dr. Katherine Melhorn is a child abuse pediatrician with the KU School of Medicine-Wichita Department of Pediatrics.