The “Spank With Love” Approach Does Not Work, Here’s Why

The "Spank With Love" Approach Does Not Work

The spank-with-love approach to disciplining children is not effective, as 50 years of research points out. Here’s why you shouldn’t spank and how to properly parent through problematic behaviors.

In the debate about the ethics of spanking, there are generally two sides: those who believe in spanking, and those who don’t.

But there is a divide amongst the pro-spankers too — those who spank out of anger, frustration, and the belief that “kids need a good whoopin’,” and those who believe that they are spanking calmly, out of love.

The defense of the calm, loving spankers is that spanking is not an angry reaction; spanking should never be done in the heat of the moment, but rather after the parent has calmed down, always with an explanation of the infraction, and often followed by hugs.

The idea is that children need to be struck in order for them to develop obedience, but that the striking of the child must be done from a position of calm authority. It must be done “with love.” This notion will supposedly prevent the children from being harmed by their spanking, and instead they will learn discipline.

This is despite the fact that 50 years of research shows the negative impact spanking has on children’s brains.

When faced with such research, the spank-with-love folks usually respond by asserting that spanking out of anger is the real problem, not spanking itself. Surely if a swat is followed by an explanation and a hug, there won’t be any problems.

It’s tempting to believe that if we take anger, frustration, and rage out of the equation, spanking isn’t harmful and proves to be a good discipline tool.

But, this is not the case.

In a study from Duke University which “examined whether the association between corporal punishment and child adjustment problems (anxiety and aggression) is moderated by maternal warmth,” researchers found that pairing spanking with kindness does not lower the risk of harm from physical punishment.

The lead researcher, Jennifer Lansford, reports, “Being very warm with a child whom you hit in this manner rarely makes things better.” In fact, she says, “It can make a child more, not less, anxious.”

“Generally, childhood anxiety actually gets worse when parents are very loving alongside using corporate punishment,” she wrote, stating that it may be “simply too confusing and unnerving for a child to be hit hard and loved warmly all in the same home.”

“Unnerving” is the right word. The spank-with-love approach is reminiscent of an abusive relationship in which the abuser is warm, friendly, and loving part of the time, while administering painful punishment whenever they deem it necessary. The inconsistency of behavior causes more fear and anxiety than having a consistently angry parent would.

Children who are spanked are at higher risk for aggression, emotional issues, delinquent and antisocial behaviors, mental illness, and drug abuse. Yes, really.

For parents who grew up in a spanking environment during their own childhood, it can be challenging to stop the cycle of violence at home. But it’s important to recognize the chicken-or-egg cycle of corporal punishment. One study of a trial designed to reduce problematic behavior in children found that when incidents of spanking were reduced, “the difficult behaviours in the children also declined.”

Essentially, the more you spank, the more you’re creating problematic behaviors in your children. The less you spank, the less you’ll feel the need to spank, as those difficult behaviors decrease.

So what can you do?

If you want to stop spanking, make it a priority to take an entirely new approach with parenting. Learning new parenting skills and tools is a must. See the resources below, save them, and read them often. Commit to non-violent parenting. Your children, your family, and the world will be better for it.

4 thoughts on “The “Spank With Love” Approach Does Not Work, Here’s Why”

  1. Thank you for this article, Kristen. I was raised in a “spank with love” home, and it did indeed contribute to a tremendous amount of childhood and adult anxiety. The idea that people who love you have the right to hurt you, and that it is for your benefit, is very disorienting. It contributed to ambivalence in my adult relationships to my parents as well. Add to that the reality that the buttocks are a potential erogenous zone, spanking can obstruct the development of healthy sexuality.

  2. Parents who spank should ask themselves:

    1) Would your child ever accept a spanking from an adult other than you or your spouse?

    2) Have you told your child in no uncertain terms that it’s never OK for another adult besides Mom or Dad to spank him or her—no matter how badly he or she has misbehaved?

    3) Have you warned your child that some adults may have bad reasons for wanting to spank him or her?

    To learn how important these questions can potentially be, please read and reflect on the following:

    Jefferson County, Colorado
    Administration and Courts Facility
    100 Jefferson County Parkway
    Golden, Colorado 80419

    For Immediate Release – Apr 4, 2008

    Contact: Pam Russell
    DA Public Information

    Re: Michael DiPalma Sentenced

    Michael David DiPalma appeared today in Jefferson County Court and was sentenced to Intensive Supervision Sex Offender Probation for a period of ten years to life and two years in the county jail. The 33-year-old former day camp teacher pled guilty on January 25 to Sexual Assault of a Child, a class four felony.

    Michael DiPalma, who now lives in Centennial, worked at a Lakewood recreation center teaching Elementary Engineering Using Lego and Elementary Robotics Using Lego in July 2006. One of the students, an 8-year-old boy, was singled out by DiPalma. The boy was given a sticky note and told to make a checkmark on it every time he didn’t follow DiPalma’s instructions. The boy was told he would receive a spanking for each check mark. On July 27, 2006, when the other children were on lunch break, DiPalma lured the boy to his car and put him into the back seat. DiPalma then drove to the parking lot of a nearby apartment complex then climbed into the back seat with the boy. He put the boy on his lap, pulled down his pants and spanked him 20 times on his bare buttocks. The spanking left marks and DiPalma told him not to tell or that he would go to the boy’s house and spank him harder. When the boy’s mother picked him up at the end of the day, he told her what had happened. The family reported the incident to the Lakewood Police Department.

    DiPalma’s case went trial in September, 2006 but the jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

    The jury heard evidence that in May 2006 DiPalma had worked for a company called “Computer Tots’, teaching an after-school class at Steck Elementary School in Denver. In that class he asked the second graders to vote on which of them should be spanked. He spanked at least two 7-year-olds before his employment at Steck Elementary was terminated.

    Court records also indicate that DiPalma had been accused of unlawful sexual contact of a child, kidnapping, and false imprisonment in 1999 in New Mexico. The boy and girl who were named as victims in that case were 10-year-olds and they did not know DiPalma. He was given a deferred judgment and probation.

    DiPalma was remanded to the custody of the Sheriff following the sentencing. He will be required to register as a sex offender.

    [See also]

  3. Keep spreading awareness. This says 50 years of research regarding the harmful effects of spanking. I didn’t find out about gentle discipline until 3 years ago. Long after my own traumatizing, abused childhood. My SIL is one of the sweetest people I know, and she spanks… Gentle alternatives just aren’t out there and popular!

  4. Gone are the days of spank- love! Kids are very sensitive and it is necessary to handle them carefully. But this does not mean our bar to discipline kids should be lowered or else they would end up being over pampered. As parents we should adopt constructive ways to discipline the little ones. Child therapists like agree that alternative disciplining methods work better than spanking.

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