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Lesson 9
Some Thoughts About Spanking

Spanking and making children feel guilty are risky practices. Different definitions of spanking cause confusion and misunderstanding. There is a huge difference between slapping a 2-year-old's child's hand and hitting her in the face; between swatting a 3-year-old's behind once and hitting him repeatedly on the back. Although we know chronic or severe physical punishment can have dramatic negative consequences for children, not all physical punishment is child abuse.

Infrequent, mild physical punishment by parents may appear to be effective in stopping misbehavior in some young children. Although there continues to be some debate among professionals about the merits of its use, I am not familiar with any research showing that infrequent, mild physical punishment has clear long-term negative consequences for children. The use of this discipline choice will be further moderated by a relationship in which the child feels deeply loved and supported by the parent.

Even mild physical punishment would be inappropriate, however, for children who have been abused in the past. These children would be better served by a completely nonviolent response. Any form of physical punishment could undermine their sense of safety in a relationship with a parent.

In addition, adults other than the child's parents should never use any form of physical punishment. Teachers, camp counselors, baby sitters, and others who supervise children neither love nor understand a child deeply enough to make even mild physical punishment acceptable. Grandparents should, if at all possible, avoid any kind of physical punishment because it will undermine the very special, safe relationship their grandchildren need from them.

With spanking, children have
a violent model
for solving problems.

Although it may seem to work, spanking is not recommended as one of the discipline tools. Spanking has no future with a child. The older the child, the more force needed to make spanking unpleasant. Spanking can escalate to battering and make a child afraid and resentful of authority.

Parents who spank are in a difficult position to discourage their children's hitting. With spanking, children have an unacceptable model for solving problems. Parents who spank should consider all of their alternatives and then make the best judgment they can with their children's best interests in mind. A slap on the hand or bottom is a significant withdrawal from the emotional bank account of the parent-child relationship. Parents will have to offset this withdrawal of goodwill and trust with healthy deposits of affection, encouragement, and support. In some cases, no deposit may be great enough to offset the costs.

The choice to spank should be part of a discipline decision. Parents should take the time to think about what they are doing, instead of reacting out of frustration. If they do, they will discover less violent and more effective responses to a child's misbehavior. Spanking is based on a limited vision of available options. The toolbox seems empty. Regardless of how effective even mild spanking may be, there is always a more positive and equally effective option. There is always a better way.

Frequent or severe spanking is a sign that a parent needs help. Parents who harm their children physically or emotionally may have a history of abuse by their own parents. They may have little knowledge of effective alternatives and be under considerable emotional pressure. They may have little knowledge of children's normal capabilities, lose their temper easily, or be impulsive. These parents need support and encouragement from others to learn more effective discipline choices.

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Contact us/Help Revised: February 12 , 2003

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