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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32 thoughts on “Alternatives to Spanking”

  1. I wish it were true, but I know at least 5 countries on the list you provided where spanking is predominant. People don’t even know it’s “outlawed”.

  2. That list is a good way to raise a spoiled, out of control, self indulged brat…..Bring back the parenting of before the 1960’s…the parenting that produced the greatest generation…..This generation is pathetic and I fear for the future……

  3. Seriously? That great generation produced all of what you see around you today. My children are not perfect, but they are loving, considerate and very respectful of others. You know why? I respect them. That doesn’t mean letting them “get away” with whatever they want–it means setting reasonable limits and treating them like people and not second class citizens. Sorry, if you were just joking–hard to tell that anyone would actually be so ignorant.

  4. So, by the parenting of the “greatest generation” you mean the parenting of the Depression Era? So, maybe we should all just enact food scarcity in our homes, have our kids fight adversity by starvation and living on the streets? Have you ever read a history book?

  5. Thank you so much for your wonderful post – wonderful resource which I will be sharing. Respecting personhood is so important whether they are days, weeks, months or years old.

  6. a person who was not punished by spanking/screaming/…ect can follow these recomendations – but what about the rest of US/Russia/…ect?

  7. While I do love the list of parenting skills and behaviors, I don’t see any of them particularly responding to when your child is just acting out terribly. I am incredibly lucky in that I am able to stay at home with my daughter, provide a stressfree home for her and give her a pretty stable routine that she can participate in.

    But what about those kids who live in poverty, who are facing divorce, whose caregiver must work 1-2 jobs just to feed them. Sometimes kids act naughty, very naughty because they are not secure in their home. Then parenting is a frustrating prospect – one in which stress plays a huge role.

    I think about kids who live in ghettos, surrounded by violence – or kids in Russia, where alcoholism is rampant. Living this list requires TIME, support and intention, some parents due to life circumstances are happy just to get through the day. I would like the list to include more things like:

    sit with your kid for 10 minutes a day just to talk

    tell your kid your love him/her every morning

    when you get really angry with your kid, just walk away

    take the kid outside for a walk around the block when stress is high

  8. You mention that 90% of us spank our children but you do not address a major cause of spanking: parental anger. I’m sure that many of us would not engage in behavior that is so well documentated as having negative outcomes if it were not for our anger. The list of alternatives to spanking is helpful, but I would also like to see some tips for dealing with our own anger so we can control our own more emotional selves and irrational behavior.

  9. Fwiw, I give myself time-outs to try and chill out. Starting when my kid was about 2 years old, I would tell my kid that I was getting very angry and was giving myself a time-out. She mostly respected this and stayed out of my way for a bit so I could recompose. I was spanked as I child and have never spanked my child. I definitely could use significant improvement in my parenting, but I have a well-behaved, respectful, intelligent and compassionate child.

  10. Hi Irina,

    My husband and I were beat as a children. We are now now the parents of a 2 year old and 7 year old. We have never spanked our children. I can’t imagine hurting someone I love so much. My children are happy, thoughtful, sweet and respectful to others. I do a lot of explaining to them and they get it…even my 2 yr old. They have never had tantrums because they feel respected and understood. I think people who spank their kids are one of the following: very ignorant, lazy (it actually requires some thought to think of what to say when you don’t spank), can’t think for themselves and just do what they are “supposed” to do, or people who have anger issues. I kids and I feel bad for children who are spanked and get verbally abused.

  11. Yay… one more way the government can control our lives. I know this will make me unpopular… but there is a right way and a wrong way to spank a kid. Yeah, the mom slapping around her kids at the store is going to have dysfunctional kids… but that doesn’t mean she is the poster child for corporal punishment. (Just like the drunk dad who smothered his baby should not represent co-sleeping) Mind you… We never spanked until it was a LAST resort. By then, all of the other techniques (Explaining, Time Outs, Naps… etc) had been exhausted. I got spanked about 5 times in my childhood and I grew up to be emotionally stable person. (Engineering degree, built five homes for the poor AND I have a healthy marriage..) Crazy… I know.

  12. Plus I love how this article leaves out the important factors… are these children raised in a loving home and do they feel wanted? It completely ignores demographics. Crack whores will beat their kids and we generalize it with spanking. Alcholic ‘fathers’ will beat their kids in a drunken rage and we call it spanking. We just throw it in there with the loving parents who gave a couple swats to their kid after he has tried to push his’ little brother out a window.

  13. So the Sudan and Congo don’t spank but instead they arm their nearly-baby children to fight various self-serving wars? We’re in trouble if we add the USA to this list of “more government is needed in our personal lives”. That would be a huge mistake. Anyone else read the study? Some HS kid with the census bureau at your door asking you if you’ve been sexually abused? My confidence it the candor of the answers is seriously in doubt. Though I completely disagree with spanking being included in the list of shoving/slapping/etc – their “more problems” due to spanking is a few percentage points. 2-4% either direction probably falls into the amount of statistical error in this study. FWIW, we do not spank much, but sometimes it is the appropriate tool for the corrective job. Funny, killing the baby is totally ok (abortion). Spanking them to keep them or others from getting harmed by their non-corrected-actions is not. Closing shot: observational studies (this one) do not prove anything causitive. Look it up. In serious science (which this claims to be) it should only identify ideas/angles for future research intended to prove/disprove the hypothesis of causation. However, this OBSERVATIONAL study is being used against the freedom we enjoy in the US. Traitorous.

  14. How do i contact Peggy or someone who can help me with this issue.

    I have an evil child who makes our lives miserable everyday.

    thank you

  15. Hitting a child is such an unnatural thing to do. I agree it should be outlawed. Hitting and spanking are tools that do not belong in the teaching toolkit. The few times I hv ever tapped my 2.5 y.old’s bottom, I have done so only because I have second guessed my natural instincts.

  16. Its interesting to here people who are totally non smacking describe others as ignorant or abusive. It sounds very self rightous and rude and abusive of others, which is the very thing your apparently against. There are many things beyond physical abuse that can be equally if not more powerful than physical abuse in controlling or affecting others or children. I know people very well who are totally non smacking and I would never say that their kids are nicer to others. Before the age of 5 they seem quite unpleasant and a little frightening round my kids, but school does seem to sort them out a bit. Even though the parents don’t smack, I wouldn’t say that they are nicer and more loving to their children in any way. My brother is totally non smacking and very opinionated about it and I have been astonished how much his kids listen to him when he is present. One little word from him and they will run crying under the trampoline, like I have never seen before. I wouldnt say his kids are really secure in his love. His kids clearly want to please him in an agonising way and its not to avoid a smack. Then I have my sister who is obviously more intimate with her children and her kids are nice and really love eachother, are allot nicer to my kids, and just generally warmer. She would give a smack on the bottom. Her kids will actually say to her, mum stop talking to me and just give me a smack. Then they will run off and play. The point is, that a smack isnt necessarily as hard as a hard dissapproving word or as hard as the emptiness created by someone who is just emotionally distracted all the time. I wasn’t really smacked, my parents were very stable and secure and inspirational but they were hardly emotionally presant enough to follow up on anything I did wrong. I think watching TV all day filled allot of gaps that should never have been filled that way. There are so many ways to abuse or neglect children. It seems very shallow to focus on one aspect. Anyone who is trying to love their children in a geniune and best way they can, has to be on the right track.

  17. Hello Brooklyngirl,

    I am very happy that you are able to be so perfect and that your chldren are also so perfect. But i guess, i am not- but i am trying to be and i am asking the way to become that perfect parent – and in your reply you did not show how to get there after being abused yourself as a child – except the standard set of words – that can be found in any moms forums – why you assume that i dont explain? i do long explanations many-many times and i would not consider myself lazy – how about on demand BF 2 children first until 2.5 and second is 23 months and still going on, how about elimination comunication starting from 3 months old, how about babycaring until 1 yo, how about home schooling until kindergarden? i can go on and on – and i am alone in this country – no grand parents here who could stay with children at least for the time i would go to the bathroom – my husband is US Army disabled veteran who had 3 clinical deaths before the doctor said that he willbe a vegetable for the rest of his life – but he is almost ok 🙂 we got married, have 2 beautiful and healthy children who is also trying very hard to be as perfect as your kids – so, next time – try to help – not to advertise and to judge, good luck – i hope that you will never spank or scream. By the whay did you read this book – Punished by reward and Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn very good – they take punishment to the new level 🙂

  18. I do not spank or ever plan to spank our children. Everywhere we go people tell me how well behaved they are and they wished their children would act that way. What I do is set limits and stick to them. Sometimes it is agonizing and would be easier to spank quite honestly, but I will never touch my child in anger. For example, this fall, my daughter did say something disrespectful to me. I told her I didn’t appreciate the way she spoke to me and that she was going to have to stay home and miss part of her soccer game if she did it again.. Her dad is the coach so I am sure she didn’t believe me. SHe is 8 and trying to test the boundries a bit. She did talk back to me again so I told her dad to go ahead and go. She was devastated. She cried and I felt awful, but I hugged her and reiterated the expectations of how we speak to one another. We haven’t had an incident since. You set reasonable, firm, boundries and you can raise a child without laying a harmful hand on them.

  19. You can probably speak to your doctor who can refer you to parenting classes. Also, if your child is in school, you can speak to the special education team. Prior to school, your district probably has a group called child find or something like it that can recommend resources. You sound like you are at the end of your rope. It can get better and I bet if you find the right help you will all be much happier.

  20. Yep, I am reading this because today I spanked my darling child and it was out of my own anger. I feel horrible so I am reading this article. I apologized to her before bedtime telling her that next time I will put ear plugs in (her whining and crying led to my anger to my spanking her), and put her in her bed, so I can dilute the irritant (her crying and whining) and she can be safe while I calm down.

    It is a difficult subject and I appreciate everyone’s honesty.

  21. My parents spanked us as children. It was always in a loving, firm way and they were never out of control. I respect and love them, and my siblings and I turned out to be stable upstanding citizens who are not dependent on the government. There is a huge difference between random violent beating of a child and a controlled swatting on the bottom for defiant disobedience. Even as kids we would go to the store and stare in disbelief at kids in the checkout throwing a tantrum because they wanted something. We knew that wouldn’t go over in our family, and we had peace because we knew where the lines were drawn.

  22. @tpase, please consider this: if it were outlawed (as you request), your “couple of taps” could’ve meant that your children would be physically removed from your home and get to enjoy all the “positives” of foster care. They would “get” to be there for _months_ while the government decides if you’re suitable. At best that time would be tolerable to them. At worst they could *actually* get abused by another foster kid or the foster parents themselves. I’m freaking out even thinking about it! And if truly outlawed, could mean prison time for you. We do not want the government empowered against parents in this way. They already have power to deal with actual abuse. Let it stand at that.

  23. I appreciate your candor. I think people in general resort to something physical when the problem cannot be resolved through talking or reasoning. And most parents know how hard it can be to reason with a child sometimes. I have never hit my daughter and hope I never do. But I am guilty of yelling, even screaming at times, particularly when I am pms-ing (I am peri-menopausal and mood swings are exactly that at times and seem to come from nowhere and suddenly). It was like having an out of body experience and always accompanied by a feeling of intense guilt. When I began to see that response pattern in myself and that my daughter was beginning to model my bad behavior, I tried different ways of calming myself down. The thing that has been most effective for me is to say out loud, as much for my daughter as for me, “I will speak to you softly and I will touch you gently, but you will (brush your teeth, pick up your toys, get dressed, etc.)[email protected] And I have found that I get much calmer and better results from my daughter most of the time.

    Good luck to all the other imperfect parents out there.

  24. Just because a parent spanks, doesn’t mean they spank in anger any more than using timeouts. Spanking does not mean brutality. I have no children, but I have observed children of parents who spank as well as those who do not. It is important to note that children are different–even children of the same parents. Some respond positively to other types of discipline while some respond positively to spanking. The important thing is for children to know they are really loved and that their parents care enough to give them the attention they need and deserve.

  25. Hear, Hear!! My sentiments exactly. I was raised in a family of 8 children–7 girls and 1 boy. We were very poor, and my parents often went without in favor of us. I can remember my mother waiting to finish her meal to observe if one of us was still hungry and she would give that child her food. We knew that our parents loved us, but we also knew that our mother would “whip” us with a small switch. She never did so in anger, it was all in a day’s work for her. After a whipping, I would swear I would never speak to her again; but in less than 5 minutes, I would be hugging and laughing with her; the whipping forgotten. Since, we were almost all girls, my father never spanked us or scolded us unless we were disrespectful to our mother (although she was our biological mother, in instances of disrespect from us, he called her “my wife”, not “your mother”). They loved each other as well as their children. All of us grew up to be professionals who are kind and compassionate and love people. You see, although we were poor ourselves, we were taught, by example, to share–that there was always someone worse off than we were.

  26. Thank you for your response. I think that many thinking and loving parents use this tool occasionally for those exact reasons (defiant disobedience) and are made to feel quite guilty about it. Taking any disciplinary action out of context (of the particular offense, of the proceeding warnings, of the child’s temperament to push the limits or to be compliant)and to blindly lump it into the category of cruelty is arrogance, not social science. One could easily say that it is cruel not to correct your child and to allow them to practice maladaptive behaviors that would not be a service to them or to others.

    And before someone states that there are other alternatives, I’d like to point out that some consider time-outs a cruel form of social-isolation. My mother used guilt to induce compliant behavior – a method that I would not recommend.

  27. I should also note that there is a wide-range of what constitutes spanking. I personally am just referring to the “one swift tap on the bottom”.

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