Alternatives to Spanking

Thirty-two countries outlaw domestic corporal punishment, according to the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children:


Sweden (1979)


Finland (1983)


Norway (1987)


Austria (1989)


Cyprus (1994)


Denmark (1997)


Latvia (1998)


Croatia (1999)


Bulgaria (2000)


Israel (2000)


Germany (2000)


Iceland (2003)


Iceland (2003)


Ukraine (2004)


Romania (2004)


Hungary (2005)


Greece (2006)


Netherlands (2006)


New Zealand (2007)


Portugal (2007)


Uruquay (2007)


Venezuela (2007)


Spain (2007)


Togo (2007)


Costa Rica (2008)


Republic of Moldova (2008)


Luxembourg (2008)


Liechtenstein (2008)


Poland (1010)


Tunisia (2010)


Kenya (2010)


Republic of Congo (2010)


South Sudan (2011)


study published July 2nd in Pediatrics has sparked a national conversation, but, unfortunately, not a call for change in our parenting behavior. This new epidemiological study correlated a relationship between harsh physical punishment (pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping, and hitting) and increased risk of:


  • mood disorders
  • anxieity disorders
  • alcohol and drug abuse/dependence
  • personality disorders


An important meta-analysis of 88 studies published by Elizabeth Thompson Gershoff in 2002 associated parental corporal punishment with 11 outcomes.


  • Immediate compliance
  • Decreased moral internalization in childhood
  • Increased aggression in both childhood and adulthood
  • Delinquent and anti-social behavior in childhood
  • Criminal and anti-social behavior in adulthood
  • Impaired quality of parent-child relationship in childhood
  • Depression and lack of purpose in life in childhood
  • Increased likelihood of physical abuse in childhood
  • Depressive and alcoholic symptoms in adulthood
  • Increased likelihood to use abusive techniques with own children as an adult


Despite the irrefutable negative outcomes from spanking as well as the example of 32 countries that have outlawed corporal punishment of children, over 90% of us in the US still continue to spank. We mostly spank children under five and we do so infrequently, once or twice a month.


Most of us who spank do so because it was done to us, because we expect ourselves to be able to control our children’s behavior, and because we don’t know what else to do.


In Instead of HittingI talk about the journey from spanking to not spanking, and in the end it is simply a decision. Perhaps you want to stop spanking, but think you must wait until you have figured out something better to do. However, it is stopping spanking in itself that allows you to find other solutions. Here are some alternatives to spanking.


• Point out a way to be helpful.

• Express strong disapproval without attacking character.

• State your expectations.

• Show your child how to make amends.

• Take action.

• Allow your child to experience the consequences of his or her own behavior.

• Sympathize with the child. Be compassionate but stick to your decision.

• Give an early warning.

• Give specific instructions. Tell what to clean up, not just to “clean up.”

• Ask your child if you can help.

• Ignore some annoying behavior. Don’t reinforce negative behavior by giving it too much attention.

• Do nothing.

• Tackle one problem at a time. Correct one behavior at a time.

• Use your sense of humor.

• Give yourself time to grow and change.

• Be affectionate.

• Make sure the children are getting enough sleep.

• Use the Golden Rule for children. Do unto them as you would like to have done unto you.

• Convey respect.

• Overlook differences that don’t really matter.

• Don’t do for your children what they can do for themselves.

• Schedule family time.

• Use “I” statements.

• Don’t reward inappropriate behavior.

• Use encouragement and honest praise rather than blanket praise.

• Stop and think before you act.

• Don’t make a big fuss over spills and accidents.

• Acknowledge positive behavior.

• Sometimes just listen and be sympathetic. You can be sympathetic to both sides.

• Be willing to change your mind.

• Say “yes” as much as possible.

• Get support and inspiration as a parent so that you remember you have choices.

• Continue to think of your child as an emotional equal and figure it out.

• Just say “no” to spanking.


I know that it can be daunting to consider giving up spanking because of the fear of loss of control, but, connection is more important than control and control will ultimately erode your relationship with your child. Join our Gentle Discipline conversation on Mothering for help with moving away from spanking.


Peggy O’Mara  (101 Posts)Peggy O’Mara founded in 1995 and is currently its editor-in chief. She was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine from 1980 to 2011. The author of Having a Baby Naturally; Natural Family Living; The Way Back Home; and A Quiet Place, Peggy has lectured and conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League International, and Bioneers. She is the mother of four.


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