To Spank or Not to Spank

Girl with dunce cap sits in classroomPreviously, I defined discipline as meaning “to teach” or “to train,” the root being “to disciple.” I would like to expand on that because so often parents equate discipline with corporal punishment and automatically think they have to start spanking children when they are very young in order to “make them mind.” Frequently, parents will say that their parents spanked them and they turned out okay, so what’s wrong with it? Just because something works doesn’t mean it is desired.

I firmly believe that it is not only unnecessary to spank children, but that it is detrimental in several ways. First, parenting is not a role we play, it is a relationship process and hitting teaches children to fear the parent and breaks the strong attachment of love and bonding between them. Discipline is easier when the relationship is one bound by love.

Hitting and spanking is shaming and often results in children feeling bad about themselves, particularly if they are sensitive. They may become passive if they don’t rebel. Some children will become rebellious and revengeful toward their parents out of their anger over the punishment and will do things to get even with them. A revenge cycle between parent and child is devastating to both.

We want our children to develop self-discipline and self-control. Hitting is expedient and may stop the undesired behavior at the moment, but is an external form of control and does not help children develop self-regulation within. When hit, the child often feels angry and resentful toward the parent, thus the energy is projected outward and the anger toward the parent instead of learning  from what has happened.

Spanking does little more than to vent the anger of the parent. Usually the parent has lost control. Also, it models hitting when you are angry as the thing to do. Being hit tells children that it’s okay to hit people smaller than they are. The child may then think that it is okay for them to hit younger brothers and sisters and playmates. Studies show that the children who are hit the most are the most likely to purposely harm other people and things.

What about “Spare the rod, spoil the child?” If you haven’t read How to Really Love Your Child, by Ross Campbell, you must. He is a psychiatrist who has raised four children of his own and has counseled numerous parents over the years. His explanation of the verses in Proverbs from the Old Testament is one that I have always valued. He says that “the shepherd’s rod referred to in Old Testament scripture was used almost exclusively for guiding the sheep, not beating them. The shepherds would gently steer the sheep, especially the lambs, by simply holding the rod to block them from going in the wrong direction and then gently nudge them toward the right direction.” It is also my understanding that the shepherd was careful not to hit the sheep for that could damage the wool or cause injury to the valuable animal. Aren’t our children too valuable to hit?

So what do we do when our children misbehave? We think in terms of limits and consequences. There are a number of things we can do and I would like to begin with babies and toddlers. There is no reason to discipline an infant. Usually it is in toddlerhood when training really begins. This is a difficult age, as children are pre-verbal. I highly recommend the set of books by Louise Bates Ames and Frances Ilg, which has a book for each year of life up through age nine, with ages ten through thirteen included together. The first one is Your One-Year-Old, Fun-Loving and Fussy, then Your Two-Year-Old, Terrible and Tender, Your Three-Year-Old, Friend or Foe, etc. Each book discusses age-appropriate behavior and how to deal with undesirable behavior in a constructive way. You will find these books invaluable in understanding normal behavior for the age of your child.

© Copyright 2010 by Jackie Pearson. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Vickie

    Vickie

    June 22nd, 2010 at 4:22 PM

    There are so many better ways to discipline a child that does not involve spanking. How in the world do you teach them that being mean to others is wrong if the way that you do this is by hitting them? How about taking away a favorite toy or tv time? Some kids even respond when you just sit them down and talk with them. Anything but hitting them, that is just wrong and not the way to teach your child about doing the right thing.

  • Celia

    Celia

    June 22nd, 2010 at 8:44 PM

    So I’ve to let my two year old run out onto a road and not spank them for it?? Please…

    You cannot explain danger to such a young child. They can’t comprehend it. It’s shaming to spank them? It’s supposed to be! Then they don’t forget it. I’m more worried about mine ending up under a bus today than how they’ll feel in ten years time about being spanked.

  • Vickie

    Vickie

    June 23rd, 2010 at 4:46 AM

    But Celia you know that there are some people who spank not out of concern for the child but out of anger. And you cannot deny that spanking for this reason does no one any good. Children face abuse at the hands of their parents and so many of them justify that by saying they were just spanking them. There is just no excuse for that. Yes there are times when they do things that need a little pop, like a hand to a hot stove. But all of the time for every little thing that they do wrong? No.

  • Marty

    Marty

    June 23rd, 2010 at 5:08 AM

    Although spanking may give you immediate results,it is not desirable in the long run…the kid will only feel that his parents are dictators and will not be able to respect his parents…it will create a kind of hostility in his mind towards the parents.

  • Sigrun

    Sigrun

    June 23rd, 2010 at 5:34 AM

    Children may be traumatized for the rest of their lives by violent parents. And what if the parent is a pedophile?

    “Since children in this country up to eighteen years old can still be legally and forcibly spanked by parents, guardians, teachers, school principals and other child care professionals, it is often easy for flagellants to obtain positions where they can sexually abuse children with little or no fear of repercussions. As long as society sees spanking as a legitimate act of discipline, and as long as the spanked youths are presumed to have “deserved” it, sexually abusive spankers have an effective moralistic disguise for their true motives.”nospank.net/sexdngrs.htm

    Fundamentalists are perhaps the worst?

    “The object of discipline is to change the child’s attitude by giving them a foretaste of the potential terror and pain of eternal separation from God, which naturally result from rebellion and disobedience.” christian-parents.net/QA_letters/QA107_Why_When_How_To_Spank.htm

    When parents use the Bible to legitimate trauma, the child experiences to be totally alone in the universe (even God likes the abuse).

    But: “In addition to being a slave driver and child beater, he [Salomon]was an idolater and a polygamist of monumental proportions. Surely, if you’re searching the Bible for a guide or a model, you could find better than Solomon.” nospank.net/solomon.htm

    I’m so glad I live in a country (Norway) where absolutely all violence against children is forbidden by law.

  • Carolyn

    Carolyn

    June 23rd, 2010 at 10:39 AM

    Jackie, can’t you just explain how to deal with undesirable behavior in toddlers please instead of telling us to buy a book? We don’t all have cash to spare.

  • vanessa

    vanessa

    June 23rd, 2010 at 11:50 AM

    more than spanking,I think reward-based tasks serve kids well…this encourages them to do their own work and be independent,and also disciplines them at the same time!

  • Darren

    Darren

    June 23rd, 2010 at 12:44 PM

    I was spanked as a child and I agree with the people you said that will say it didn’t do them any harm. Unless you count being able to remember getting spanked as harm. What I remembered though was why I got spanked. Isn’t that the point?

  • Sigrun

    Sigrun

    June 23rd, 2010 at 1:33 PM

    Darren: I was also spanked during my childhood.
    At the age of five I had nightmares. At six I dissociated. When I was ten, I had my first suicide attempt.
    The humiliation, loneliness and emotional pain were unbearable. I was afraid all the time, and tried to make myself invisible.

  • joanna

    joanna

    June 23rd, 2010 at 1:58 PM

    I know families that don’t spank their kids and every one of them is an unpleasant, cheeky wild child. I’m so sick of hearing how we have to be lenient with children and then when they get bigger the same families are bleating about how they’re now uncontrollable and disrespectful. Duh, really? I can’t imagine why.

  • Sigrun

    Sigrun

    June 23rd, 2010 at 3:09 PM

    Joanna: I know many families who don’t spank their children, and these children are not at all unpleasant.

    Let’s not forget children’s human rights. UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, article 19: “States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.”

    Children are human beings. If spanking were a good thing, then also adults should be spanked.

  • Jackie Pearson LMFT

    Jackie Pearson LMFT

    June 23rd, 2010 at 5:41 PM

    Whether to spank or not is a controversial subject, and my article obviously created a number of reactions and comments. First, Celia, I fail to see how spanking your child for running in the street teaches him not to do that. It seems to me that keeping him in a safe place where he cannot dash into the street is the most safe thing to do.Thanks to some of you who had some valuable offerings on this subject.

    Carolyn, there isn’t enough space here to tell parents of toddlers what to do in each situation you find yourself involved in with them. A very broad rule of thumb is that toddlers are very portable and picking them up and moving them from one place to another works in some instances, depending on the behavior. In her book Positive Discipline, Jane Nelsen talks about using the phrase “as soon as” to get toddlers moving. For example, as soon as you put your shoes on we can go to the park (when they balk). It can also be stated as “when, then.” Your library has a lot of good parenting books if money is an issue. A very valuable book that I think is terrific is Positive Discipline A-Z by Jane Nelsen (the one for parents, not teachers). What is good about it is there are topics (A-Z) and a page and a half to read about each topic, such as what to do about Bedtime Hassles or Sibling Rivalry etc. Busy parents can read a page and a half or two, but frequently don’t have time to read an entire book. Jane Nelsen does have a book called Positive Discipline for Pre-schoolers, but, again, it’s somewhat long.

    Parenting is not easy, and the more we can inform ourselves of constructive ways to deal with our children’s behavior, the greater the chance we will raise children who will be self-disciplined, rather than looking to others for how to behave. We aren’t going to be around to monitor them as they grow up and leave home.

  • Penny

    Penny

    June 23rd, 2010 at 9:27 PM

    Spanking is bullying. Just because you’re bigger doesn’t mean you can hit them! Use your imagination, people! Find another outlet for your anger because nine times out of ten, it’s your anger management that’s the problem. Good article, Jackie.

  • Trent

    Trent

    June 23rd, 2010 at 10:12 PM

    The worse the parent, the more they spank. All you ones that like to spank your children, look at yourselves in the mirror and see if you can say you’re a good parent without flinching. Bet you can’t.

  • Steve

    Steve

    June 24th, 2010 at 4:39 AM

    Penny has it right. Spamking is bullying and in no way teaches a child the difference between what is right and what is wrong.

  • Jackie Pearson LMFT

    Jackie Pearson LMFT

    June 24th, 2010 at 8:01 AM

    Penny, you are right on. Spanking is a result of the parent’s anger, and what it tells the child is it’s okay to hit someone when they are angry. Many children are not inspired to behave when hit, but resent the parent and will either rebel or retreat into themselves, feeling that they are bad. The idea that if kids aren’t spanked they become obnoxious is another false idea. I know children of numerous families who weren’t spanked and they are terrific. I’m thinking of my own adult children who are two very wonderful citizens of the world with good self-esttem and are successful in life. It is expedient to hit, because it may stop a behavior on the spot, but it doesn’t teach them anything. It takes teaching, training, and creativity to set limits and consequences for children–and to mean what you say. My son says that he aways knew when I said no that I meant it and there wasn’t any reason to argue with me. It takes more time and thought than disciplining via corporal punishment to parent. Remember, discipline means “to teach or to train.”

  • Paul R.

    Paul R.

    June 26th, 2010 at 1:42 PM

    Excellent article there Jackie. Thank you. Kids’ behavior can be controlled in ways other than spanking. Read up on it, all you non-believers! Just because you were brought up like that doesn’t mean it’s the only tactic parents can employ that works.

  • Wanderer

    Wanderer

    June 26th, 2010 at 6:52 PM

    “Expressing your anger is an opportunity for you to speak clearly and honestly and enhance your relationship with your child. Unless kids see their parents or role models expressing anger, they won’t know how to do it themselves.” – Deborah Cox

    Teach them the right lesson. Talk, don’t hit.

  • Jess

    Jess

    June 26th, 2010 at 9:27 PM

    Parents today are too quick to look for the easy way in everything from disposable diapers to no bedtime rules. A spanking is fast. Teaching them about boundaries isn’t. If you want to be a parent, take the responsibility of another person’s life and growth seriously and devote time to that very important job. Parenting’s hard work and the most rewarding job you’ll ever have.

  • Chelsea

    Chelsea

    November 8th, 2010 at 9:56 AM

    I agree with the idea that spanking is a form of bullying. Can we all point to a family that doesn’t spank and has kids that run wild? Probably. We likely can also all point to several families who spank and have kids that learn to do “bad” things and get away with them, so as to avoid consequences. That translates to adults who still have behavioral problems because they were never taught to do the right thing for the sake of doing it. They were taught to do it or else they would experience physical pain. Once they are old enough to avoid spankings, they have learned nothing.

  • Lisa

    Lisa

    July 18th, 2011 at 7:20 AM

    im 24 a girl from sweden, i got hand-spanked over my moms knee fully-clothed from 3/4 to 14/15, only ever fast-spanked 4/15 whacks,i soon behaved,it did me no harm really, it never was in angry,she told me + it was done hehe?

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