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.
Some Thoughts About Spanking
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
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.