Will Spanking Gain Your Child’s Respect?

Close up of a little girl looking out a windowAs a family therapist, I have helped families work with benign issues, such as a teens refusing to clean their rooms, as well as extreme ones, such as revelations of sexual abuse. One of the more frequent issues brought to my attention is a parent’s lack of ability to “control” a child and the consequent use of spanking to garner this control.

Spanking as a Matter of Culture

Having been forced to respond to this issue time and again, I have done a lot of research and thought a lot about it. Aside from the obvious ethical issue—namely my role as a mandated reporter—I have had to struggle with a practice steeped in the history of American culture. Corporal punishment, or the deliberate infliction of physical pain, has been part of our culture since our early days as a nation, even being used today in some school systems in America (19 states allow it).

Does spanking work? Should we all be hitting our kids to develop a society of rule followers who respect authority? Well, think about it: Does being afraid of authority necessarily mean you respect it?

Fear vs. Respect

What I have seen throughout my time as a therapist is that fear doesn’t usually tend to lead to respect. In my work, often one or both parents believe they were kept in line as a child only through beating. When we examine this more closely, the parents openly recognize corporal punishment did not always promote adherence to the rules when they were kids; they simply became better at not being caught breaking the rules.

In my experience, corporal punishment (or spanking, whooping, hitting, beating, etc.) often promotes more aggressive behavior in the child at home and in school. The child who is punished with spanking is often left with few skills to cope when difficult situations and emotions arise, and they tend to repeat the modeled behavior of the parent by turning to physical aggression to solve problems.

An article in Monitor on Psychology, a publication of the American Psychological Association, examined spanking research conducted over the years. Several recent peer-reviewed studies indicate children who had been disciplined with corporal punishment were more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior toward friends and siblings. One study, published in 2011 in the journal Child Abuse and Neglect, looked at 100 families with children ages 3 to 7 and found in households where children were spanked, the kids were more likely to use violence to resolve conflicts with their siblings and friends. The article in Monitor also shared evidence that physical punishment may increase the risk for mental health issues for kids, including anxiety and depression.

Perhaps the worst consequence I have seen from physically aggressive punishment is the damage it does to the parent-child relationship. Many children and teens I have worked with who have been parented with corporal punishment often express a desire to “grow up and get out.” These kids want to escape the relationship because they see the punishment as abuse.

How Can We Parent Our Kids Without Spanking?

The use of rewards and consequences can be one of the best ways to gain respect and control over children and teens’ behavior. Many caregivers try this and fail. In many cases, one parent didn’t maintain the rewards or consequences, or a partner undermined efforts. I often see parents who haven’t completely committed to the use of rewards and consequences, and instead of working on becoming more consistent, blame is put on the child.

To effectively administer a plan to discipline and encourage your children, there are a few steps to follow:

  1. Make two separate lists: one of behaviors you want to promote and one of behaviors you want to work on decreasing. Examples of behaviors to increase include taking out the trash, cleaning the bedroom, and completing homework. Behaviors to decrease could include being impolite, hitting, and fighting. Each child is different, and a plan has to be tailored to the needs of your family.
  2. Think about appropriate rewards and consequences for each behavior. Parents can come up with many rewards that don’t cost a thing and may improve relationships in the family. Examples of rewards are: playing a game with your child, taking your child to the park, and/or letting your child spend time with friends. Consequences can include taking away privileges (use of video games, phone, etc.) and grounding or time-out, depending on the age of your child.
  3. Share the plan with your child. Children must be aware of the possible consequences and rewards in order to give them the chance to make the appropriate choices. Parents can use this plan as a tool by reminding the child of the consequences of their choices before they make them.

If your child is not used to facing consequences, they will likely resist, and it may require some effort on your part to remain firm and maintain the consequence. Persevering through the first month or so will be necessary to see positive, long-term results in your parenting style and your relationship with your child.

Perhaps the worst consequence I have seen from physically aggressive punishment is the damage it does to the parent-child relationship. Many children and teens I have worked with who have been parented with corporal punishment often express a desire to “grow up and get out.”Some factors make maintaining a plan for rewards and consequences difficult. Guilt is probably the No. 1 reason I hear for a parent not being able to us this system to improve a child’s behavior. Lack of support is the second most common, and when there is support, often spouses and co-caregivers can’t agree on how to parent, and thus “splitting” occurs. In this scenario, the child gets away with whatever they want, and the parents end up angry at each other. For these three reasons, among others, many parents struggle with creating and maintaining boundaries and expectations for their kids.

A careful mix of executive authority and a nurturing stance is needed to earn respect from your kids. If you are struggling to implement such a plan, don’t resort to hitting. Working with a therapist can help you cope with feelings of guilt and can also help you and your spouse or co-caregiver work as a team and eliminate splitting. As this article suggests, you are not alone, and seeking help from a therapist in no way means you are a failure, but instead represents that you are a proactive parent.

References:

  1. Rochman, B. (2012, July 02). Hitting your kids increases their risk of mental illness. Time. Retrieved from http://healthland.time.com/2012/07/02/physical-punishment-increases-your-kids-risk-of-mental-illness
  2. Smith, B.L. (2012, April). The case against spanking. Monitor on Psychology. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/04/spanking.aspx
  3. Strauss, V. (2014, September 18). 19 states still allow corporal punishment in school. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/09/18/19-states-still-allow-corporal-punishment-in-school/

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Alexis Hansen, LCSW, therapist in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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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  • Sydney

    Sydney

    November 3rd, 2015 at 11:28 AM

    You have to want one of two things as a parent. You either want to be a parent that your kids are afraid of or you have to want to be a parent that your kids love and respect. Personally, I could do without the fear. My parents did it in the right way, so that I loved then and respected them so much that I never wanted to do anything that would disappoint them or hurt them. Parenting is hard, I get it, but you don’t have to result to hitting your child to teach them a lesson. As far as I can tell, you hit and hurt and the only thing that that says is that you don’t love them or respect them.

  • dade

    dade

    November 3rd, 2015 at 2:32 PM

    quick question- would you as an adult respect someone who hauled off and hit you?
    no?
    then there you have your answer

  • Todd

    Todd

    November 4th, 2015 at 6:21 AM

    I pretty much got a spanking every day that I lived growing up. I was just a pretty bad kid, so it doesn’t surprise me looking back on it that someone didn’t beat me to death! But here I am and still have a great relationship with my parents regardless of the fact that yes they spanked me. I am not sure that there was much of anything else that would have ever made an impact on me. I think that you need to find the discipline that woks for your child and this unfortunately was about the only thing that ever made an impact on me.

  • Orphan Izzy

    Orphan Izzy

    November 19th, 2015 at 10:30 PM

    Is it possible that you were a pretty bad kid because you got whacked every day instead of disciplined with positive reinforcement and being taught actual lessons in life that you could understand and actually put into practice? I’m glad you have a great relationship with your parents but there are so many different things that could’ve helped you and so many better ways. For instance had your parents sought professional help to understand why you were acting out all the time so they could help you to adjust better that might’ve been a better way just to start off with. With all due respect well this is my opinion.

  • caitlyn

    caitlyn

    November 5th, 2015 at 7:46 AM

    For those of a certain generation I think that there was a very strong feeling that this was the best way to get a child’s attention and to teach them something. I think that most of us know by now that while this might work in a handful of cases, I think that spanking overall is harmful for the kids as well as the parents. The kids are learning that even though we tell them not to hit this is what we then turn around and do to them? And the parents start to use their own anger against their children. Not healthy!!

  • Maggie W

    Maggie W

    November 6th, 2015 at 6:31 AM

    While i have never believed in beating a child, I would have to say that there are certain children for whom this is the only way that you can ever get their attention. They just become so focused on the behavior that you want to stop that you have to give them a pop to bring them back to reality and to listen to what you want to tell them. There are of course those who disagree who say that there are other an better ways to grab their attention. Probably true. But i know that I have one grandson who gets so hyper fixated on what he is doing that to make any kind of impact at all you have to get him a little swat to revert attention back to you.

  • Kenneth

    Kenneth

    November 9th, 2015 at 7:08 AM

    There are some cultures where they don’t give any thought to whether this will make the kid respect them or not. This is all about discipline, and respect? They don’t think about that at all. Now the kids may who are experiencing the discipline, but the parents feel that it is their right and their duty to take care of the kids this way.

  • Andrew

    Andrew

    November 10th, 2015 at 10:33 AM

    I don’t want to say that I will never spank my children because I don’t know how I will react when I have kids of my own.

    I would like to say that I think that there are probably better forms of punishment and discipline out there than just spanking, and I want to try those methods before ever feeling like I have to resort to physical punishment.

  • Orphan Izzy

    Orphan Izzy

    November 19th, 2015 at 10:26 PM

    I didn’t even read this article. The answer is no. Spanking is not the answer to anything and that should be obvious. Fear and respect are two different things and unless you are spanked consistently every time you do something wrong or know beforehand that it is the consequence to an action, is inconsistent, is confusing, and causes stress for the child and at the end of the day is nothing more than a plain old violence. I mean who decides where to draw the line between what is just spanking and what is actual abuse because to me it’s all hitting and simply an excuse for a parent to get their frustrations out on the poor child who usually doesn’t see it coming and doesn’t deserve it. Its an uncivilized and unevolved practice that people are still trying to justify because they like to whack children whenever they’re angry rather than go get therapy or do something in a healthy way and want someone to tell them it’s OK but it’s not OK. It’s not OK.

  • jess

    jess

    March 23rd, 2016 at 5:04 PM

    I have a 6yr old daughter and I have tried everything with her..taking things away that she loves, not letting her go places she wants to go on weekends, giving her time outs and even spanking her. any type of discipline I give her just only makes her worse it seems. she is disrespectful, breaks things intentionally when she doesn’t get her way, throws things, picks fights with her older brother, lies on people, doesn’t follow directions at all, tries to manipulate everyone she comes in contact with. I am basically now at a loss of ideas as to what to do at this point, I don’t want her getting any worse then she is now because I know as children get older the actions become worse. at 1 point she was even having problems in school with keeping her hands and feet to herself, not following directions and not completing her school work. went thru that for a whole yr. this yr so far I haven’t had any problems in school. basically now its to the point that people in the family and even friends of the family doesn’t even want to deal with her. any suggestions would greatly be appreciated. i have already made an appointment for her to start seeing a therapist to see if that will help out any

  • Alexis Hansen

    Alexis Hansen

    May 28th, 2016 at 6:34 AM

    Hello Jess,
    I believe seeing a therapist is the best thing you can do for your child at this time. When a child is extremely difficult to parent, regardless of what you do, the more support you can get the better! I am happy to hear you aren’t having problems in school, which is a good indicator that you can improve her behavior at home as well. Therapy not only helps you to learn new tools as a parent, but it can also help your daughter to communicate what might be driving her behaviors.

  • Nic

    Nic

    November 21st, 2016 at 9:19 AM

    As a kid I was spanked, I hated it but now that i look back on my life I’m gratful for it. I feel like i gained more respect for my teachers and my parents. So I respect that others dont like it but i personaly think that spanking should still happen. I hope when I get to the age to have a family of my own that I will be able to disiplen them as I feel necicary. BTW- thank you for your feed back.

  • Jean

    Jean

    October 3rd, 2017 at 7:33 PM

    Thank you for confirming what I have thought and said for years. There are many people who think spanking a child gains them respect, trust me, it doesn’t. It causes fear, I know from experience. I think people confuse respect and fear. If you respect someone, you shouldn’t fear them. It might make a difference if the child knows why what they did was wrong. I was spanked quite a bit as a child, it didn’t do any good. I learned how to live by societies rules on my own, and turned out pretty good. Although I did spank my own child, it certainly wasn’t something that I looked forward too and didn’t do it much. I’ve always disliked physical violence, more than most I think.

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