Stop Spanking

I still remember when one of my aunts, furious at her son’s defiant and impolite behavior, ran into the bathroom to grab a hairbrush so she could spank him with it.

I was downstairs playing. I cowered behind the couch in the living room, trying to make myself as small as possible, trying to disappear.

She went back upstairs with the hairbrush. I didn’t see her spank my cousin but I heard him shrieking.

I’m not sure how old I was, maybe four? My parents did not hit me when I was a child and I felt confused and frightened by my aunt’s rage.

Before I had children, hitting a child seemed like a cruel, cowardly, and pathetic thing to do. I’d been babysitting my whole life and I never even considered hitting a child as an option.

In graduate school I would listen to Dr. Laura as I drove North on Buford Highway in Atlanta to the center where I taught English to Korean immigrants. I knew she was wrong when she would say a swat on the tush or a smack on the hand to teach a child a lesson was okay.

Then I had children of my own.

No one–not even the bully who taunted you so badly in fourth grade that you shoved him down the stairs–can push your buttons like your own offspring. The worst, for me, was when my oldest was two. One afternoon I found her upstairs jumping in her crib instead of napping. She and her friend who I was watching for the afternoon had sneaked a bag of Pirate Booty (a crunchy pseudo healthy snack food) upstairs and strewn it like confetti around the room. I was caring for a fussy new baby, my husband left for work before dawn and came home when the girls were already in bed. My firstborn had turned from an easy baby into a defiant, willful, and stubborn toddler and we had many long hours in front of us before bedtime. I recognized that I was at a breaking point. I scolded them sternly but decided to clean the Pirate Booty up later and take the kids out for a walk. I put the baby on my back and put the two older kids in the red wagon.

In the middle of the street, with a car coming, my daughter jumped out of the wagon.

It wasn’t even then. It was after Jess came to pick up her son and my daughter continued to misbehave that, in a rage that had been simmering all afternoon, I smacked her on the tush. Her eyes rounded with surprise. She started to cry. I cried harder than she did. I felt terrible. I didn’t believe in hitting children and–too immature to deal with my emotions in an appropriate way and to discipline my daughter with love and firmness–I hit her.

There’s an article published in today’s about a new study by an assistant professor at Tulane University, Catherine A. Taylor, about the negative consequences of spanking.

The study collected data from 2,481 mothers at their child’s birth, and then again at age 1, age 3 and age 5.

The study concluded that three-year-olds who were spanked more than a few times a month were 50 percent more likely to be aggressive at age five.

This makes a lot of sense to me. If you spank your child, you are modeling aggressive behavior, physically hurting them, using your superior force against them, and showing them that the most aggressive person wins. But according to the study, a majority of Americans, especially in the southern United States, condone corporeal punishment for children.

Many of the comments at reflect the bias in favor of spanking. One I found particularly disturbing is by Luiz. He writes:

Every time there is abusive behavior, the children must suffer some kind of physical punishment that reinforces automatic reaction and the creation of the right brain synapses. A physical stimulus is necessary for that! This does not mean applying heavy, brutal spanking or beating that leave bruises or worse. This means that to love is to apply a smaller punishment that burns enough to be remembered but is much smaller than the one given the real world (in a kind of “vaccine”). Yelling or offending is REALLY a MUCH WORSE punishment than spanking, and many times is remembered forever, while a spanking is usually forgotten in hours!

I think Luiz is wrong. And I’m saddened that so many parents wrote in to say things like, “we were spanked as kids and we spank our kids and it’s fine.”

This new study adds to a growing body of evidence that it’s not okay to hit your children.

I honestly understand the urge to spank in a way that I never did before I had children. But I still think it’s wrong and potentially very damaging. It’s hard for me to understand how people can defend physically hurting a child or think that it does not have long lasting negative consequences on a child’s self-esteem.

It’s been over 30 years but I still remember the fear I felt watching my aunt take that hairbrush upstairs to spank my cousin.

Click here for Tulane University’s press release about the study and here for a PDF of a Power Point presentation by the study’s main author.

What do you think? Is Luiz right and you need to punish your children’s bad behavior by inflicting a small amount of physical pain? Is it ever okay to spank your kids? Are you concerned about your children growing up to be overly aggressive? What are some effective ways you use to discipline your children? Join the discussion in the comment section below.

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50 thoughts on “Stop Spanking”

  1. This question is one of the reasons I don’t have children – I was not only spanked as a child, but I got the belt or the wooden spoon a few times. I know that rage is simmering deep down inside of me somewhere, and it’s got a historical probability of happening again. Yikes!
    .-= Stephanie – Wasabimon´s last blog ..Mediterranean Mezes: Haloumi Squares with Tapenade =-.

  2. I live in New Zealand where spanking (called smacking here) is illegal. Although I was spanked as a child, the last time was so early in my childhood that I can’t even remember it so I don’t think it was scaring. I’ve no children myself, but I do know for sure that trying to reason with a 3-year old in a tantrum is pointless. Mostly, I’m glad it isn’t a problem that I have to confront.
    .-= Melanie´s last blog ..Svelte Felt Sphinx Minx =-.

  3. It’s curious that we seem so wired to react intensely to our own children, and feel such a strong temptation to hit them, even if we think it’s wrong and would never hit anyone else. Psychologically it’s the least desirable way to change behavior, and it depresses the responsiveness of the punished person to everything. It’s an ugly thing, and I think those like Luis who fail to see that don’t have good moral vision

  4. I don’t have the answer here… but only an observation…My father NEVER spanked me as a child. In fact, he prided himself that he never laid his hands on his children. No, instead, he verbally abused me. He manipulated my behavior with painful words. At 16, in a fit of rage he hit me in the back of the head (pretty sure that’s why my atlas is always in need of adjustments) and also once tried to “spank” me again in my teen years, but dropped me on my chin instead (more spinal issues for my chiro to work out). All of the above remains clear as a bell in my memory. All the words and the few attempts of physically abuse definitly damaged our relationship on a permanent lasting level. Calm rational parenting is obviously the way to go… but don’t think for one minute that a parent who never spanked is somehow elevated to a higher level of parenting. If the parent is without proper parenting skills, and are left to mold with damaging words…a damaged child is what they will produce. It’s not cut and dry… the emphasis to parent the child in loving ways and how to methods should be provided in these “no-spanking” articles.

    Personally, I like love &

  5. There is a common denominator here. ANGER! Anger is the problem! Not the spanking. Hitting your child out of anger is ABUSE. Spanking your child calmly and explaining calmly why their bahavior is unacceptable is completely different! If you cannot contain your emotions, then no spanking is given. Children respect people who are in control of their emotions.

  6. Remaining calm and “rational” while you hit your own child is no better than doing it out of anger (although perhaps a bit safer from an abuse stand-point) and may be even more confusing to the child. Spanking does not allow you to separate the behavior from the child no matter how calm you are or how rational your “explanation” of why you are hitting. The message to the child still boils down to “you are bad” – not that the behavior is unacceptable. Developing parenting skills that go beyond this physical form of discipline and increasing your options for responding to behavioral issues will will be of greater benefit to both you and your child in the long term. Read works by Chick Moorman, Thomas Haller, and Alfie Kohn to name just a few to expand your toolbox.

  7. I live in Sweden and here it’s been illegal to hit your child since the 70’s at least. Every 3 year old knows this. It’s still a problem just like in every country, but at least here children have some rights to not be assaulted. Spanking, or whatever you call it, is NEVER ok, and is violence, simple as that. We all get frustrated at our kids now and then, after all it’s their job to challenge us. But to respond to this with violence is never ok. What if you went to work and got a spanking by your boss when you missed a deadline or spilled your coffee on your desk? You’d sue the bastard, and I hope kids get this right in the US soon too!

  8. Luiz is wrong. I child needs to know that their parents love is constant. An adult would never hit another adult in anger without some kind of consequence. The other adult might return hit back or press charges. It would not be acceptable. It my eyes it is never acceptable to hit a child.

    Having said that, no one can push my buttons like my kids. I have never hit or spanked. But in an intense moment, I have squeezed an arm too hard, or yelled to loud or too long in an overreaction to a situation. In each case, I have apologized to my son. I respect him and his right to be respected. Like I would any adult. If I loose my temper and behave badly. I sit down with him and apologize. We talk about what happened. I say I’m sorry. He tells me how he feels. And we heal the injured feelings all the way around. Then, we deal with the instigating behavior/incident anew.

  9. I work as a school counselor, so I deal with the aftermath of kids who were/are spanked. Kids who were/are spanked are the kids who exhibit bullying behaviors toward other children. Spanking your child is indeed “using your superior force against them, and showing them that the most aggressive person wins.” You could define bullying using the exact same terms!

  10. Although I know I will of course receive the inhumane reaction, I agree with Mykael. There is a right and wrong way to discipline, and the attitude of the parent is the heart of the matter. If a parent does not spank, but does yell, threaten, speak harshly, etc, these actions are equally as damning to a child, so how can a comparison be made. To spank or not to spank is an individual situation, and just as each child needs to be taught things differently, discipline needs to be handled differently per child. My oldest daughter, very strong-willed and beautiful in heart, can often because defiant. She thanks me when I spank her, she cries from the pain, but it settles her little spirit because she knows that I love her too much to allow such outbursts to continue for her own good. It may be contrary to comprehension, but I would caution everyone to not knock it unless you have ever experienced a calm, assertive, loving, and embracing exchange between a loving parent and a loved child involved in the spanking. There’s very little difference from the medical community saying that home births are terribly scary and wrong, but no one has ever attended one to know how beautiful they truly are….

  11. Jennifer I can totally sympathize with the situation you were in. It is amazing how difficult it can be to raise children sometimes – how physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging the whole thing can be. I agree with you that spanking is never the answer and don’t understand how anyone could think that violence will help a situation.

  12. I was spanked as a child (calmly, as one reader described as preferable). I am not scarred but I also had very loving parents and it was an anomaly. I know there are many parents out there who can use it in the same manner and not scar their children.

    And yet, we do not spank our children. I simply do not understand the logic of hitting your child to curb bad behavior. I live in the Bible Belt where they are fond of quoting “Spare the rod, spoil the child”. I think this small non-contextual quote has become a favorite and deserves a more conscious look. It is a quiet and unexamined justification for spanking.

    We are raising future adults, not permanent children. Let’s raise them to *be* adults. Adults don’t hit one another in the name of instruction.

  13. Several years ago a mother was spotted on camera hitting her child in the car in a Kohls parking lot. A few days later my girlfriend took her two small toddlers to have their portraits done and was so exasperated by the end that she said to me, “I KNOW why that woman was spanking her kid–she just tried to have their picture taken.” Kids are EXHAUSTING and it’s 24/7. I understand why people who have limited resources to fall back on hit their kids. Or, if they were raised that way and believe it’s the only way. My father smacked my butt once. I was about 3 and went out into the street. Other than that, I was never hit. I have a no-hitting policy with my kids but I DEFINITELY have had MANY times of having rage against them (the biggest is when they are hurting each other). For me, I make everyone go to a corner or spot where they can sit AWAY from each other and then I go cool off to get myself under control. I don’t talk, I don’t touch anyone, I just walk away for a few minutes. It definitely works better that way (but I know, I know, I know, it’s not always easy or something you can do. Every situation is different.) I don’t like yelling at my kids and definitely don’t like yelling outside at my kids either… we’re all just trying to do our best (hopefully).
    .-= Claudine´s last blog ..Keep Talking =-.

  14. We have spanked unfortunately. My husband grew up in a VERY physically harsh family where spoons, belts and screaming at the top of your lungs were always prevalent. This carried over to our children and while I don’t condone it, I didn’t know how to stop it. We’re now working on an “Adult rewards chart” to help be a visual reminder of every time we keep our cool. Changing these behavior is NOT an easy task, please remember that when you think about others. It takes a lot of work, a lot of trying and failing, before we can even come close to completely stopping.

  15. It is not O.K. to spank a subordinate at work as a disciplinary action or a spouse or any other adult for that matter as you will be charged with assault… is also not O.K. to spank a child. People fail to remember that children are people as much as adults are and deserve the same respect.

  16. I have been teaching more effective discipline techniques for over 20 years and I am alwyas surprised at how people hold on to spanking as something that works. It stops the behavior for the moment because it shocks the child, but it teaches all the wrong things such as hitting and force and confusion and fear. There are so many other techniques that work much better, and parents can really benefit from taking the time to learn and use them. Visit for more info on parent mentoring and my new book Mothering Beyond Image: Living in the Shadow of the Too-Good Mother.

  17. Our own children push our buttons in ways we never could have imagined happening before – I understand all the feelings you express, from the fear you felt witnessing your aunt’s rage, to the incident with your own child which you so bravely describe.

    Some of the most helpful parenting books I’ve read have sections on looking at your own reactions before you respond to your child – and seeing which of your beliefs, the beliefs which ultimately influence how you react to your child, are true. I realize that my most angry or frustrated moments come from rigidity in my own thinking.
    .-= Christine at Origami Mommy´s last blog ..Close Enough to Kiss =-.

  18. My dad only hit me once. He lost it and smacked me across the face. My brother only hit me once. I kicked his radio, and then he punched me in the face. I’m sure my parents yelled at me a lot. As kids we made an art form out of figuring out if mommy was “in a bad mood.” But I don’t remember the yelling specifically. I remember those two incidents. So I think that blows that guy’s theory, doesn’t it?

    My husband was hit on the rear with a belt when he was a kid. He was a very willful child–the kind of kid that would do in just about any parent. He even admits this. (He’s STILL just as willful, mind you). Oddly, I don’t think the spanking did much good, nor did it do much harm. Of course, it’s hard to figure out how he might have turned out if he hadn’t been spanked.

    I try not to lose my temper ever. It’s not completely possible, but it’s a noble goal. I feel like it’s my job as a parent to model good conflict resolution and communication skills. After all, how else is the kid going to learn that stuff? When she gets into corporate america and a coworker isn’t doing her job, will my daughter give that coworker a spanking? Um, I sure hope not.

    Now, I have to say that we do have this sick game we play as a family where we try to give each other spankings. It’s a ruse and never done if someone is really mad. For instance, my husband will fart and I’ll say, “Kaari, Daddy shouldn’t have done that. Go spank him.” And then we’ll chase him around the house. That sort of thing. I’m not sure if it’s healthy or not, but it’s kinda fun.
    .-= Alisa Bowman´s last blog ..Should you role play? =-.

  19. Alisa! Too funny.. if I say, “I’m gonna spank you!” Everyone giggles, pretends their protecting themselves, and yet can’t wait for the initial “spank” and then tickles. 😉 I’ve even had times where I said (in a grumpy voice) “You guys are a bunch of spoiled brats!” and they all laugh and repeat it, “A bunch of spoiled brats.” Seriously.. I must be very non-threatening. hehehehe (Point of reference they are 12, 6, and 4 yrs old)

  20. A tough issue but not a tough one for me. I never spanked my kids. Sure, I felt like it but never had it in me to actually do it. (besides, they grew up so fast that in no time they were bigger than me :)

    However, I can understand the frustration and rage that kids can instill in us, and have certainly felt that many times. Instead, I used to send them to their rooms or separate them (if they were hurting one another).

    I’d say it has a lot to do with how you were raised. My parents never spanked – although my father did lose his temper with me once and hit me with a belt (that, I’ll never forget) – and he was most definitely NOT an aggressive type of person. Which makes me realize that even the “best” of us can sometimes “lose” it.

  21. I have had to use it as an ultimate last resort. My child is defiant. after the 9 millionth time she ran toward the street I swatted her….it stopped and she hasnt done it since. I don’t see what other choice I had. You tell her not to do something and she HAS to do it. did I abuse her? No I am trying my best to keep her safe. Going inside … See Morewasn’t an option at the time, if it would have been we would have gone inside…but I don’t feel I have to justify my reasonings on why I spanked my kid ONE time….she won’t be scarred for life and well she also is alive instead of being hit by a car….

    I think to jugde a mother on whether she swats her child on the behind as a punishment makes you no better then the behavior your trying to change. Same goes for every aspect in life. You get all defensive if someone questions your parenting if you don’t vaccinate. SO of course spanker are going to get defensive and justify their actions from non spankers. I was spanked and I can remember the one and only time my mom spanked me using a wood spoon. I don’t remember what I did but I know I was spanked a lot more then that!

    Instead of jumping the gun calling spankers ABUSERS and bad moms, why not find out why they choose to spank….maybe they didn’t know they have other options. Maybe they don’t know about unconditionaly love parenting. OR simply they were raised that way as a child and know no different. What divides us as mothers is our choices and the fact they we ourselves are not grown up enough to be open to other peoples options. We are so quick to judge and call names when we should be offering support and advice escpecially to those of us who have extremely strong willed children. Telling me I abused my child is the quickest way for me to dismiss you. try a loving approach just liek you do towards your children if you would like to get me to change my mind about a parenting style!

  22. I don’t have children yet, so it’s easy for me to say that I would never spank them. And I certainly would try to avoid it. But if my kids are as willful and stubborn as I am, then I know there will be times when it’s extremely tempting. And Jennifer, I can empathize with the situation you described.

  23. Thank you for this article. I think it is hard for parents to admit that they feel angry enough to hit their child. I certainly did not know I was capable of getting this angry until I had my own child. I do not feel that spanking is an appropriate way to correct bad behavior. When I get so angy I want to spank my two year I put myself on a time out to remove myself from the situation. When I am ready to teach with love and respect then I feel I can be most effective in parenting.

  24. She *thanks* you?! That seems kind of twisted to me… Haven’t you ever heard of grounding or a time out? Those work without promoting violence.

  25. Thank you to everyone who has left a comment so far and who has shared personal (and often painful) information. I’m really delighted to see such a spirited conversation going on around this difficult and very controversial topic.

    Being a parent is one of the hardest, most thankless jobs around. It’s also one of the most wonderful and rewarding. But, as so many have mentioned here, if we’re honest about it we’ll admit that being a mom often exhausts us. It maddens us. At times, most of us feel like failures. I know I do.

    At we want to champion mothers (and all parents and caregivers). I’m hoping this blog can be a place, like the Website and the magazine, where you find comfort, support, help and ideas. We do not want this to be the place where people feel threatened, scared, or ostracized.

    We’re all trying to be good, caring, loving mothers no matter how differently we might raise our children. While I encourage differences of opinion, I want us to be careful not to attack each other here. There is no need for that.

    Motherhood is hard enough without us becoming divisive and without us tearing one another down. Let’s support one another, even if we don’t always agree.

    Fair enough? I hope we can keep talking! And I love the idea of writing a blog about effective ways to discipline. I’d love for readers to share secrets about WHAT WORKS to get kids to behave and act the way we want them to.

  26. That’s a great idea, what works. Yes, do post a blog on the subject. I used to have quite a repertoire, although the specifics escape me now. (Next week my firstborn turns 40!!)

    Sorry to reach this conversation so late. I know my French husband and I did not have the same opinion on spanking, so sometimes cultural differences can play a role. I was adamant against spanking. He wasn’t.

    We have three children. In two moments of anger, I spanked one (my son) once and slapped one (my younger daughter) once. I don’t think my children were marked by this physical abuse, but still I wish I could take back those two incidents which remain so clear in my mind.
    .-= Alexandra´s last blog ..Erosion Closes Beach at Cahoon Hollow =-.

  27. Um, I’m pretty sure home birth is more about a woman having the right to choose where and with whom she gives birth, rather than an authority figure deciding what is “right” and how to achieve it.

  28. I was spanked once or twice as a child – I don’t think I was traumatized, but I do think I paid more attention and changed bad behavior when confronted with parental disappointment or explanations rather than anger.

  29. I was spanked regularly as a child – it was the default discipline method in my home. I wouldn’t say that I was spanked daily or weekly, but monthly, yes. More times than I can remember, yes.

    I don’t feel damaged, particularly. HOWEVER, I have never hit either of my children, and I won’t. I have had moments where I have felt the impulse, for sure. I call it the ‘itchy hand’, and I had it at the grocery store today. But I kept it in check. Because I don’t believe that it is effective, or necessary. In fact, I don’t believe in punishments or rewards of any kind, I opt for more of an unconditional parenting style.

    Whether spanking is damaging or not, what it comes down to for me is my own personal value system. And that value system says that we don’t hit. Period. We use our words and work together to solve problems. That’s who I want to be, and how I want to parent.
    .-= Amber´s last blog ..One Unhelpful Doctor =-.

  30. I agree that spanking is wrong. I think that no human being has the right to hit another human being. Period. I like the part about being mature enough to discipline with out spanking. Children need discipline. Not violence. I teasingly told my grandkids that I was going to spank their daddy, my son. Just to get a laugh. They didn’t think it was funny. “Hitting is wrong”, one of them said.

    “You’re right”, I replied. And, that tells me they will never be hit by their parents. Every disagreement is a learning platform for both parent and child. Use it wisely.

  31. I remember vividly being spanked with a hairbrush as a child. The room, the chair, my mother’s angry face are all seared into my memory, and I couldn’t have been older than six. It is that memory that has stayed my hand the MANY times I have felt the urge to hit my own kids. But it didn’t stop me from using the same hyperbolic, chilly tone with my eldest daughter that my mother used with me when she disapproved of my behavior. She would turn on her heel, slam doors, freeze me out with a look, chill me with her tone of voice. When my eldest daughter was five I read “The Drama of the Gifted Child” and I realized it was repeating damaging history and I cut it all out. Which isn’t to say I don’t occasionally lose my cool, but I try to diffuse my temper, discuss the issues, apologize if I slip and otherwise treat my kids with the respect due to them as the sentient beings I brought into this crazy, stressful world. I can’t say I’m any kind of model parent, but I am mindful, and my daughters are growing up unafraid of their mother. That’s the bottom line” children who are hit or verbally abused by their parents are experiencing a loneliness and fear they may never recover from. Hitting a kid isn’t just dirty pool — it’s telling them that the one person that is supposed to protect can hurt them. It cuts them adrift and makes them angry, forsaken souls and future bullies.

  32. Thanks for posting this and for posting the original article. I know this will probably not be a popular opinion here, but I’m going to put it out there. I do have “a spank” in my parenting toolbox. I rarely use it, I sometimes threaten it and it is not my only tool.

    I used to be fully anti-spanking. I was spanked as a child, sometimes with a belt, once with a razor strap, my brother and sister often got the wooden spoon. I didn’t get them often and they were usually delivered by a calm parent, but, obviously I still didn’t like it and determined that I would not use that method of parenting.

    And then, like the mom in this article, I had kids. I believe in natural consequences and finding a child’s specific currency to reach them when they are misbehaving. For instance, if you misbehaving with a specific toy, I will give you a warning and explain what you should be doing with it (I always tell my kids what they CAN do, as well as what they CAN’T do), then I will say “if you’re too little to follow the rules with that toy, I’ll have to take it away.” After that, if my child can’t listen, I’ll take the toy away. And, if you don’t want to put your coat on, then you can go out without a coat and be cold. Then, next time, you’ll put your coat on.

    That worked great with my daughter. She had fits, but sending her to her room to throw them took the air out of her sails, so that stage passed pretty quickly (2 mostly). My daughter understands an explanation, she follows directions, she’s totally logical. She’s almost 5 and has decided that she doesn’t want to get her ears pierced like her little friends because she doesn’t “need another hole in my body for germs to get in.”

    But now I also have a boy. And he’s not rational, not reasonable, not decisive, not at all interested in rules about health or safety. He’s going on 3 now and is JUST NOW starting to calm down enough for me to explain a few things to him. Until just now, he couldn’t make the connection between misusing a toy and having it taken away. I did it anyway, but it made no sense to him. When my daughter would learn from the first time of this, my son just thought I was a jerk.

    So, over the last year or so, I have added “a spank” to my vocabulary. I specifically reserve them for open defiance and serious issues of safety. I do admit to getting angry with my children and having my buttons pushed, but that is NOT when I spank. I spank when they are doing something that they need to stop doing (either for their own safety or because they need to listen to me) and I have already told them and I need them to listen immediately. I give them a warning “do you need a spank to listen about this?” and, 95% of the time, they say no and are ready to listen (they are almost 5 and almost 3 now).

    I did find this is to be an important tool (and, for the record, I’m talking about a swat on the bum – often a diapered bum – with an open hand. Enough to get their attention, but not meant to deliver much actual pain and never with an object) for that age around 2 – 3 when they have to learn where the line is and what the consequences are for going over it. I am alone with my children so much that it is important for them to listen to me and for us to work together. I don’t have the luxury of telling my kids that their “dad will handle” any kind of discipline, nor do I have an engaged partner here to watch them while I go cool off. I have to keep it together at all times.

    After a spank, we also talk about it. Immediately, we hug and talk about how “we don’t like spanks” and we talk about how to avoid them in the future.

    The article states that kids that are spanked “more than a few times per month” are more aggressive and I agree with this. In fact, I am still mostly anti-spanking. I don’t want to do it and I mostly don’t do it. Now that they are getting old enough to make better choices and remember established boundaries, a verbal reminder works. I don’t remember the last time anyone actually got a spank in this house. As they get older and more able to control themselves and more cognitively mature, I hope to put that tool away completely.

    All that to say….I really do identify with the anti-spanking sentiment, but I kind of sit on the fence on this issue. I feel the same way I do about the cold medicine being recalled for small children. Because a large number of parents couldn’t dose their kids correctly, the whole tool was removed for everyone. I don’t like that – it doesn’t seem fair to the thoughtful parents that make an effort to do things carefully. That is how I approach the spanking issue – thoughtfully and carefully. I don’t think the whole tool should be removed and yet I think it is often being administered very dangerously. So, I’m kind of on the anti-spanking “side” of the debate, even though I do practice it.

    I just think that every kid is different, every parenting situation is different and we have to be careful pointing fingers at one another. This spanking conversation is one where people on both sides quickly become hysterical and I see that as a difficult learning environment. People that spank inappropriately – or people that don’t spank, but yell abusively – or people that neglect to discipline their kids at all – all of us have parenting skills to learn. And it’s not a good learning environment when we are each on our high horse, saying how wrong the other side it. I say that we should reach out to the other side by saying what we ARE doing and how it’s working because I’m sure we could each take in a little something from another family and put it into practice. And, I also think every kid needs something different. My son is very musical and very passionate about what we are listening to. If he is being whiny in the car or spitting at his sister, I tell him I’m going to play loud music and then I blast them with some music he doesn’t like for 45 seconds and he is instantly compliant. It’s kind of a joke in our house, but it works. He knows that mom is in charge and he’s nice in the car now. For my daughter, I used to roll down her window and she HATED it, so she would stop mid-fit to ask me to put her window up. There are plenty of kids that will grow up to be respectful, productive, creative loving adults that never needed a spank on the bottom, because other disciplines worked great for them. But, I also believe there’s a percentage of our kids that just won’t believe that there’s a line there without a physical boundary being set – and each parent is going to have to discern for themselves what kind of kid they have, where that line is and what they are going to do about it.

    That’s all I’m trying to do here and I hate to see these debates where parents start tearing into one another over some controversial subject. I know we all have strong feelings about this, but let’s try to keep our conversation respectful here.

  33. Well, you have to think about the meta-message you are giving your child aside from the immediate message that whatever they just did was not okay.

    Think about it. You are calm, and you are hitting your child. What larger message might that convey?

    Well, when you’re calm, rather than agitated, that usually conveys to a child that the situation is acceptable to you. Nothing is wrong, everything’s OK, nothing to see here, move along.

    And the situation that is currently acceptable is you hitting the child.

    Larger message: Hitting someone when they do something you don’t want them to do is perfectly okie-dokie.

    How do you think they will carry that message into their own adulthoods?

    The sad part is, these pro-spanking people defend it with a “it is much worse in the real world”–uh, maybe, but last I checked, hitting an adult is called assault and battery and could land you in jail. We don’t even like *police* hitting people and I’ve certainly never seen a judge reach across the bench and slap a defendant, have you?

    It’s perfectly fine to say that consequences are worse in the real world for misbehavior. But to say that we should spank because real-world consequences for misbehavior are worse, is to say that we are never modeling consequences for misbehavior in our children unless we’re assaulting and battering them.

    That’s insane. The real world doesn’t usually hit our kids, it just gives them bad credit reports for running up debt and fires them from jobs when they spend too much time loafing. Is there not some way we can model logical consequences for them while they’re kids while still keeping them safe from worst-scenario outcomes?

  34. Some kids get aggressive, sure, but other kids don’t have the temperament to go in that direction–instead, they become fearful, afraid to take even healthy risks and too willing to put up with bad treatment because it was “normal” when they were younger.

    I was like that. Still am. The lesson I’ve gotten throughout my life is that if you dare want anything you can count on not only losing it but being punished for wanting.

  35. So the only way you can discipline is by hurting your child–either by hitting them or by yelling at them a lot? That’s what I’m getting from your comment despite your best efforts to paint yourself as a rational child-hitter. From here:

    “If a parent does not spank, but does yell, threaten, speak harshly, etc, these actions are equally as damning to a child, so how can a comparison be made.”

    You’ve come to the curious conclusion that if you are just calm when you spank, it’s OK. Well, how about being calm and finding some other way to discipline?

    I know it’s hard. I grew up being spanked and while I don’t do the whole ritualized stand ’em up against the counter and give as many smacks as years of age (and my parents nearly always used an object–flyswatter, cutting board, belt, etc.), very occasionally my daughter will push my buttons and seems out of control and gets swatted bare-handed on the butt. Know what though? She still has those moments. Hitting her doesn’t prevent any further outbursts. So I’m trying to figure out some other way to deal. I’m on a learning curve because this stuff wasn’t exactly modeled to me.

    All I know is being hit on a regular basis did not turn me into a happy, well-adjusted adult. And given the amount of rancor I see expressed by pro-spanking advocates, I don’t think it does that for anybody.

  36. Next time someone tells you “spare the rod”, ask them if they have ever known a shepherd. The verse refers to guiding sheep, an experience with which virtually all Hebrews were familiar. Try smacking a sheep on the head with your shepherd’s rod and see how far you get. The smacking was reserved for predator animals who threatened the flock. For the sheep it was a guide only–and you nudged, you didn’t hit.

    Not a bad analogy for good parenting. When it isn’t taken out of context and misquoted by 21st-century wage slaves who are lucky to see sheep at a distance, on someone else’s land, if at all.

  37. My daughter has this phase she goes through in the evenings, after her dad gets home, that I’m coming to refer to as Happy Hour. She becomes grouchy, defiant, and picks fights with us. We did not live with her father (he and I are not involved, but are friends) prior to last summer, so that’s a new experience for her, but that’s not the problem, or at least not all of it. She would have Happy Hours before then if he came over to visit after he got off work. If it was just us, most of the time she was a very easygoing child, if sometimes more boisterous and energetic than I felt like being. We would have nice, easy evenings and bedtimes with a minimum of drama. Now that we are living with him and see him every day, things have gone downhill.

    So I can relate to keeping spanking in the toolbox. In our case it’s more a shock to the system, as it were, when she’s really getting out of control. As with you, we don’t use objects and she typically gets one or two quick swats and that’s the end of it.

    And yet, I’m troubled. It doesn’t prevent future misbehavior. It’s not teaching her to control her own behavior. I’m realizing I use this tool because I don’t know what else to do. It is not like they give classes for this kind of thing in high school–it’d be nice if they did, but then you’d get conservatives ranting about it “encouraging teen pregnancy” and all that. Sigh.

    It doesn’t help that her dad does this doormat act when she starts misbehaving, and persists in being the doormat until he can’t stand it anymore. I can’t make *him* straighten up and start acting more like a parent. It is like being in a sinking boat with a leak that is out of my reach. Very frustrating. Whoever said a household is not “complete” without the daddy hasn’t been in mine. We’re a complete mess, maybe…

  38. Hi Dana – I’m sorry you feel like a complete mess sometimes. Give yourself a little credit. I can tell that you love your daughter very much and that you are doing the absolute best you can for her.

    I have given some thought to this issue about how to make a spank into a teaching tool and I think the talk that goes on around the event is critical to the process.

    In my house, I do give them plenty of warning and I ask them if they “need a spank to listen” when they are being to wiggly and defiant to listen. Most times that gets them to straighten up and listen. When it doesn’t, I say “Well, I’m sorry that you are choosing a spank,” and then give them a quick one. I am also sorry to report that each of my children has had ONE time when they still didn’t listen and they chose another spank, and another. That means that each time, in between, I asked if they could listen and then alerted them that they were choosing a spank and then delivered one more.

    Now, they listen most times without a spank and certainly after one because they know that I am capable of very calmly, very patiently continuing to do that. And afterwards, we talk about how none of us like spanks and I don’t like doing it, so next time we are going to choose to listen.

    To the best of my understanding and ability, I think this mimics the real world. If you don’t pay attention at work, you get a “spank” of some kind and if you don’t fix it, you keep getting them, even if you change jobs. If you spend money unwisely, you’ll get a financial “spank” of some kind, possibly over and over until your behavior changes.

    And…to be completely honest, I do have this conversation with my almost 5 year old. I tell her that time-outs and spanks are for children and that it’s my job to deliver them so she can learn from them. I tell her that when she’s a grown up and in charge of herself, there will be other ways that grown-ups get time-outs. There are police to impose order and there are rules that grown-ups have to respect and if we don’t do it, we could end up in jail. So, I give her time-outs or a spank to teach her things when she is small so that she can avoid going to jail when she’s big.

    So, I’m sure there are ways to work on your approach to make the tools you have really do the best possible job for you and your child. Hang in there!

  39. I do spank my kids on occasion. I don’t like to. I don’t like to ground them either. I don’t like that they act out and are disrespectful and need discipline, but they do. Discipline is part of my job, and how I handle it evolves as I parent longer. When I have reacted and spanked or slapped one of my kids out of anger, I have not always regretted it. Sometimes I do and I apologize, but sometimes that child (and this has only been a few occasions) really did need that physical force to stop inappropriate and potentially dangerous behavior. Time -outs and other consequences sometimes aren’t even on the table if a kid is really out of control. Sometimes stopping the behavior is the most important thing, and then you go from there. I think routine use of spanking as a reaction to all misbehavior is not going to work. And there is a fine line between discipline and abuse.

    There is a parenting discipline “toolbox” of sorts, like someone mentioned above. And we have to remember that we are all doing our best with the tools that we have at the time. It’s also inappropriate, in my opinion, to judge when we don’t walk in others’ shoes or parent others’ kids.

  40. This is such a tough issue–I’m glad Jennifer that you were able to present both sides. I think many of us over a certain age were spanked and can clearly remember it (I can, we had a wooden spoon). I only spanked my children a handful of times when they were little and if I had to do over again I wouldn’t. I found that my children responded to other forms of punishment much better. But parenting is so hard that you’re right we need to look at how to support each other instead of picking each other apart.
    .-= Kristen´s last blog ..A Taste of Hungary: Crockpot Paprika Chicken and Spaetzle Noodles =-.

  41. Spanking is such a hot button topic. It’s not one of my go-to discipline tools but I do understand the frustration and, yes, rage, that can emerge when you’re trying to corral an unruly kid.

    And I think about that a lot: Whether verbal “assaults” — yelling, screaming, nagging etc. — are just as damaging as physical stuff.

    Jennifer: If you’re looking for ideas for your post on a discipline toolkit I do believe Melanie Haiken wrote just such a story at & if my memory serves my correctly, I wrote a package on the same subject for the same outlet last year. Might be useful for your research.
    .-= sarah henry´s last blog ..Book Giveaway: Spoon Fed by Kim Severson =-.

  42. I’m in complete agreement that spankings on a regular basis are not necessary or beneficial. We spank fairly rarely, and only when other means of discipline have not broken the behavior in the child. I can totally see how frequent spankings can be more the cause for, rather than a deterrent for, negative behaviors in the children, but when used sparingly and with purpose they can be very beneficial. I feel the same thing is just as helpful in adolescence and throughout life, when we continue to act inappropriately over and over and over again. Sometimes the temporary discipline tactics are ineffective and a more shocking encounter is necessary to awaken us to the importance of stopping the behavior. I don’t expect anyone or everyone to agree with our parenting choices. It’s fine with me if no one agrees. I hope that every family finds what works for them, but specifically based on care, research, thought, and critical thinking to determine their course of action, not on the barrage of negative criticism left by those who only want to see things one way.

  43. I think you said it very well, Codi. The talks that go along with the spanks are just as important as the discipline technique. I stay home with the kids and talk to them regularly about their behavior and how mommy and daddy are working to teach them how to become properly behaved adults so that they can avoid even more difficult and uncomfortable discipline. The relationship between the legal system maintaining order and the laws of the home are very accurate and should be explained regularly. You and I definitely agree on many counts of how a spanking should be used and how it’s been completely misunderstood because so many people have inappropriately used it.

  44. anyone read ‘everyday blessings’ by myla and jon kabat-zinn? there was a great story in there about a child who was not spanked (unlike his peers who were beat fully) for destroying a building (they punched holes in the drywall). his father simply drove out to get tools and new drywall and stayed up all night repairing his son’s mistake. what a powerful example. it left a deep impression on me!
    .-= kendra´s last blog – a hand =-.

  45. I don’t know what to say really. My first reaction is that most people posting here who are anti-smacking are pathetic, guilt-ridden and emotional weak.

    I give you this quote from one my fellow commentators on the daily Telegraph newspaper: “If it is seriously being argued that criminal assault and battery on a child and a slap on the leg are indistinguishable, then prepare for legislation to ban you from kissing your children. It’s an action used at times in a sexual context. How could you possibly use the same action differently in different contexts with different people? How can you be trusted without laws and supervision to know the difference? This is the right and trust under threat, that the average person knows the difference perfectly well and the tiny minority who abuse it are pursued with the full power of the law.”

    It is an intellectually unsupportable argument to say that smacking a child that knows no reason and doing the same to grown adult in an office is the same thing. A child is a child – not an adult. A child is being taught to be an adult and part of that process is to learn to do what they are told when they are told. They have to understand that in fact there are no rules but consequences. Children are essentially self-centred. Sharing, caring and obedience do not come naturally. As for the inappropriateness of violence at any time I suppose when America does ban smacking it will also withdraw its troops from every conflict and never engage in one again. The double standard is appalling if an adult can fail to understand the warning to restrain himself or suffer an air-strike then how on earth do you hope to restrain an hysterical child without a smack in the armoury of parenting techniques.

    The mistake many parents make is forgetting to be an adult and a parent not a best mate. Discipline should be carried out deliberately and if sometimes your reaction is more extreme than you would have chosen under calmer circumstances the last thing you should do is grovel to your child. They have to understand their role in the situation.

    As for notions like “time outs” I envy the parent that has the time to just stop say in the middle of an airport concourse with the gate closing and indulge in a time out – what rubbish.

  46. And I wonder what the child learned from it? I wonder if the child soon figured out that no matter what he destroyed, someone else would take care of it? I wonder if this lack of punishment in general is the reason a large number of those in society take no responsibility for their own actions?

  47. Spanking is absolutely okay, and good for some children, as long as it’s not abusive.

    There’s a huge difference between spanking your child and beating them. Spanks belong on the butt and on the hand when needed. To disagree with Luiz is to ignore a very basic understanding of how the brain works; Luiz is sbsolutely correct in how the brain functions when discipline is applied lovingly.

    What’s more, every child is different. Not all kids need spanking. To say I shouldn’t spank my son because your child doesn’t need it is simply ignorant. Your child is unique, so is mine.

    Case in point, I used to try all the time-out crap when my son was younger. He has gotten worse, he sits there and plays in the corner; what I am going to do, make him sit there longer? He now has ADHD. You know what has made him better? Spanks. I warn him before his disobedient behavior comes to the point of spanking, but once he crosses the line and continues to ignore, I follow through consistently with what I said would happen. If he hits his stepmom, one spank. If he yells at anyone, one spank. If he acts highly inappropriate, one spank. My son is much better behaved now. I tell him what the spank is for, I then spank, then I hug him and tell him the punishment is over. We’re down to maybe 1 spank a week now.

  48. As a child development researcher, I would say that the recent scientific article is just one in a series, published over many years, that finds negative consequences of spanking on later child development. The issue I would suggest that parents consider in terms of the research findings is not “Does spanking have an effect in the moment?” but rather “What are the long-term effects of being spanked as a child?” The research consistently indicates that children who are spanked have eventual issues with aggression. These issues are not trivial and cause eventual problems both for the children and their parents. As such, it may be wise to consider alternatives to spanking that can achieve the immediate goal (which hopefully is to direct behavior in a more appropriate way — not express anger) without the negative consequences that are repeatedly demonstrated in scientific studies that examine spanking. As a side note, I cannot think of a dog trainer who endorses physical contact as a mode of shaping behavior – if we can train dogs via behavioral methods that are humane I would hope we can do the same with children.

  49. As a child development researcher, I would say that the recent scientific article is just one in a series, published over many years, that finds negative consequences of spanking on later child development. The issue I would suggest that parents consider in terms of the research findings is not

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