A Corporal Punishment Fallacy

August 26th, 2010 by Dionna | 72 Comments
Posted in Carnival and Special Series, Gentle Discipline Ideas, Successes, and Suggestions, Gentle/Positive Discipline, natural parenting, Respond with Sensitivity

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There is a “Likey” going around Facebook that says: “I’d rather go to jail for spanking my kids than for them to go because I didn’t.”

Allow me to present the fallacy of such an assertion:

  • Eighty percent of prisoners in the United States were abused as children or raised in violent homes.1
  • The more children are spanked, the more anger they report as adults, the more likely they are to spank their own children, the more likely they are to approve of hitting a spouse, and the more marital conflict they experience as adults.2
  • Spanking has been associated with higher rates of physical aggression, more substance abuse, and increased risk of crime and violence when used with older children and adolescents.3
  • Children who are spanked frequently at age 3 are more likely to be aggressive when they’re 5, even when you account for possible confounding factors. Signs of aggression included behaviors such as arguing or screaming; cruelty, bullying or meanness to others; destroying things; fighting and frequently threatening others. Even minor forms of corporal punishment increase the risk for child aggressive behavior.4
  • Actions causing pain such as spanking can acquire a positive value rather than the intended adversive value. Children who expect pain may actually seek it through escalating misbehaviors.5
  • Spanking is no more effective as a long-term strategy than other approaches, and reliance on spanking as a discipline approach makes other discipline strategies less effective to use.6

Perhaps the Likey should read “I’d rather teach my children there are ways to deal with anger that don’t involve violence, than for my children to be at higher risk of aggression, substance abuse, and a life of crime because I spanked them.”

Photo credit: shadgross

  1. Child Abuse Statistics. And while not all incidences of “spanking” legally qualify as “abuse,” the use of corporal punishment may make the possibility of later abuse more likely. Studies have shown that parents who spank are at risk of escalating the pattern later. Add to this the fact that children who are spanked may actually start to seek pain, which may result in harsher and harsher punishment as misbehavior increases. Perhaps more telling is the fact that approximately 85% of adults expressed moderate to high anger, remorse, and agitation while punishing their children. Striking a child in anger or in an emotionally-charged state means that the adult is less likely to be in control, increasing the chances that the punishment will cross the line into abuse. American Academy of Pediatrics, Guidance for Effective Discipline (see also studies cited in article)
  2. Guidance for Effective Discipline (see also studies cited in article)
  3. Guidance for Effective Discipline (see also studies cited in article)
  4. Tulane Researchers Find Spanking Can Make Children More Aggressive Later; Mothers’ Spanking of 3-Year-Old Children and Subsequent Risk of Children’s Aggressive Behavior
  5. Guidance for Effective Discipline (see also studies cited in article)
  6. Guidance for Effective Discipline (see also studies cited in article)

72 Responses to:
"A Corporal Punishment Fallacy"

  1. the grumbles   thegrumbles

    the idea that by spanking them you’re somehow doing them a life service is disgusting. as if spanking them will magically turn them into *not criminals*. you’re not doing them a favor by spanking them, you’re doing them a favor by stepping up and being an active, involved parent who teaches them how to use self discipline and control your anger.

  2. Thanks for writing this. I’ve seen the ‘likey’ several times and just shook my head…

  3. Bonnie @BonniesBows   BonniesBows

    I have to disagree. I was spanked as a child (probably not enough at that!) and I did not suffer in any way from it. There is a BIG difference in spanking and beating. Spanking comes from love and beating comes from temper. When I spank it is in a calm manner, and we discuss why we had a spanking, and then we hug and I let them know I love them, I just don’t love their actions. You just have to find what discipline works best for your child. I have one that does well with time out, another responds to spanking (and by spanking I mean a swat on the behind) a third that has to be ‘grounded’ from her books. It’s all about individualizing punishment to your childs needs. Too many parents avoid any form of discipline and are paying for it later when the child it too old to correct.
    I”m sure I’ll receive plenty of criticism for this- but I have to say “to each his own” on this one. As long as it is not ‘abuse’ (and I know that some of you define spanking as abuse) then you have to do what works for your family.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      The problem, though, is that the study quoted in a footnote said 85% of parents spank in anger/duress/etc. You ask any parent – we don’t “discipline” our kids 20 minutes after we get our temper under control, we lash out at the very moment the kids are “misbehaving.”
      Your child does NOT understand that you spanking them is out of love. They see an angry, big, controlling parent coming at them to hurt them. Put yourself in your child’s shoes – did you enjoy getting spanked? Did you sit back and say, “gee, mom and dad REALLY love me when they hit me!!” NO! I was spanked. My sisters were spanked. It SCARED us. It terrified me to hear my sisters get spanked – and my parents never crossed the socially acceptable line from spanking to abuse.
      Regardless of whether either of us feels that spanking didn’t harm us, or doesn’t harm kid A or kid B, the abundance of research shows that spanking DOES hurt our kids – psychologically, emotionally, relationally. It hurts their trust for us. It hurts their relationships with others later in life (did you see how adults who were spanked find it more acceptable to hit their spouse?!). Girls who are spanked are more likely to seek out abusive relationships. http://www.nospank.net/sexdngrs.htm
      Where 90% of parents in the US have admitted to spanking, *I* am more likely to be criticized for this post than you are for your comment, but I do feel like people need to speak up for the rights of children to be free from physical punishment. I just don’t find it justifiable to hit a child when it is unacceptable to hit an adult.

    • “There is a BIG difference in spanking and beating.”

      I’m sure there are many parents who would like that to be true. If only it was, no?

    • Alex

      To me, the fact that you think it’s okay for a parent to hit a child tells me that you’re not okay. Seriously. My father spanked us. My sister dated two men who physically hit her, and I wonder whether being spanked by my father made her think it was okay for a man to hit her. When I was four months pregnant, and she got mad at me, she smacked me! My son is 6 years old. I vowed I would never spank any child I have. My husband is an incredible human being, and he was NOT spanked. That is a perfect example of someone not having to be spanked to turn out to be a great person. There is no spanking in our household. You make it seem as though spanking is the ONLY way to discipline. Seriously? So it’s either spanking or not spanking? What I love is teaching my son how to treat other human beings by treating him like the way I want to see him treat others. That’s how people learn respect.

      • Lexi

        Your Comment has no validity. There are other factors that could have been the root problem. It foolish to assume that one action could be the reason that your sister dated men like that. Also if spanking were the root reason, how did you find an incredible human being for a husband, and your sister did not.

  4. Mrs.B

    Why do I have a feeling this was written by someone with out kids and the studies are done by people in clinics and not in normal households? Listen, there is a difference between spanking and beating the life out of a child. Spanking is a light form of punishment implemented squarely on the backside when warnings have not been heeded and the disruptive behavior continues. Beatings are when you let your anger and frustration get the better of you and become abusive by leaving bruising or welts. Personally I think comparing the two are like comparing apples to oranges. One is violent and the other is done out of love because you don’t want your kids to grow up like the above mentioned persons.
    As a child of spankings I have thanked my parents because I was taught right from wrong and not let off the hook like many children these days because of fear of CPS. If anything their reprimands made me the productive citizen I am today and kept me out of harms way.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      No, this was written by the mama of an almost-preschooler – and I’ve never laid a hand on him. Have I ever wanted to? Sure – I can understand the urge to spank. Sometimes he’s made me so mad that my first reaction is to want to give him a swat. But – and here’s where parents need to change – I remember that I am the adult. I am in control of my reaction. I might get mad at my spouse, but I don’t hit him. Nor will I hit my child.
      Again, studies show that 85% of parents hit while angry/extremely distressed/etc., not a good time to discipline.
      The studies quoted above are not about beatings. They are about SPANKING. The hitting that is justified by regretful parents as being done “out of love.”
      I choose to show my child love, though, the same way I want to be shown love. Gently, with respect. I question anyone’s love for me who feels the need to physically hurt me to make a point.

      • Mrs.B

        Sorry, I read after the fact that you have a child. First off lets make sure we have the same meaning of hitting and spanking. Spanking is a closed hand that lightly swats the rear-end. Hitting is a forceful action that can be applied anywhere. Hitting is never done out of love, but anger. Spanking is a reprimand after an action that was warned and done because you love.

        I respect your decision to not spank and reprimand your child gently, however you cannot compare your adult relationships with your relationship with your child. You stated above, “…*I* am more likely to be criticized for this post than you are for your comment, but I do feel like people need to speak up for the rights of children to be free from physical punishment. I just don’t find it justifiable to hit a child when it is unacceptable to hit an adult.” This is where I don’t understand. I agree that you should NEVER hit a child or adults. However, a light swat on the bottom is not hitting if you let them know it is because they did not listen. We are the adults, they are the children, simple. There is no negotiating as you do with adults, no compromise as you do with adults, otherwise you open the door for them to walk all over you and not take you seriously. Now, if you have a child that is a sweet tempered being and listens to your methods, then that’s great! I applaud that you have found a way to reach them and gain their attention. As the commenter said before me, to each his own! :)

      • Dionna   CodeNameMama

        Let me rephrase: I don’t find it justifiable to SPANK a child when it is unacceptable to SPANK an adult.

        The studies cited were done on *spanking*. Spanking, swatting, slapping, whatever you want to call it – I call it hitting, because that’s what it is – causes negative effects. There is a plethora of research on it.

        I compromise and negotiate with my child all the time – it is teaching him a useful skill, one which he will use all of his life. Shielding himself from my hand, however, is not a skill he will need down the road. My child is not always sweet tempered, but I *choose* to be gentle with him. Being gentle with him might mean that it takes me longer to come to a place of calm with a toddler who is melting down, but the long-term benefits of it are worth it. And, for the record, my child doesn’t walk all over me – we respect each other, because we show each other respect.

        And a note: I appreciate that everyone has been using a respectful tone. I understand that this is a volatile issue, let’s be sure to stay calm and patient with each other – just like we want to with our kids!

      • Mrs.B

        Dionna, thank you for your insight in to alternative solutions. You have been nothing but respectful to my views as they differ from yours.

        When it comes down to it we are all parents who just want to do right by our children and some methods may work better than others. I don’t know your children just as you don’t know mine. One thing we do understand is that the core of our beliefs is to teach our children respect, love, generosity, kindness and hope that whatever we do turns out positively along the way. There is no infinite answer to raising children; if there were then we wouldn’t need these forums, books, studies or Doctors.

      • Dionna   CodeNameMama

        Mrs. B – I emailed you – the comment about sarcasm wasn’t directed at you, but at the person who said that sometimes adults need “tough love.” (Nesting comments sometimes goof!) I appreciated your comment, and I agree – we are all trying to raise our children with love, and no one knows exactly what the best/only way is. I’m glad that we have all been able to share some experiences here.

      • Heather   xakana

        Of course it’s okay to spank an adult. When it’s consensual foreplay ;-p

      • James

        Dioanna, I agree with everything you said. The only problem is sometimes even with adults we have to shoe tuff love.

      • Claire

        Hitting with a closed hand is called punching.

      • Tim

        You misquoted your own source. “The more children are spanked, the more anger they report as adults, the more likely they are to spank their own children, the more likely they are to approve of hitting a spouse, and the more marital conflict they experience as adults”

        Although you do not make a distinction between spanking and hitting, your source does. In your source, the statement reads “The more children are HIT…” not “The more children are SPANKED…” As the source makes a distinction between spanking and hitting you are misleading your readers by stating that the AAP correlates the use of spanking as discipline with the likelihood of them approving of abuse as adults. That is not true… they correlate the ABUSE of children, as defined by physical abuse causing pain or marks which last more than a few minutes, such as scalding, beating, burning, etc. with acceptance of abuse as adults.

        As stated in your source, more than 90% of homes report the use of spanking as one form of discipline for younger children. You can’t say that spanking in and of itself correlates to adult acceptance of aggressive violent behavior and abuse of children and spouses, because in order for that to be true than the 90+% of us who were spanked as children would be that way as adults, and I for one am NOT abusive, aggressive or violent. But I do spank my toddler, under certain controlled and well-reasoned circumstances, and feel no regret for it, because I am fully under control when it does happen. Others may not be able to say that, and perhaps that IS abuse, but controlled corporal punishment is not abuse.

        You also quoted that “spanking is no more effective as a long term punishment” but I noticed the AAP does NOT say it is LESS effective either. And long-term punishment is not the goal. If you are spanking your adolescent, you are wrong. Even older children (6-10yrs) spanking will be far less effective than other forms of discipline. But how do you teach your 2 year old not to reach out for the hot stove, by speaking gently to them? Or by letting them burn themselves to teach them a lesson (THAT is neglect), or by swatting their hand away before they burn themselves. Good luck trying to explain to a 2 year old that they will burn themselves… they won’t comprehend it.

      • Dionna   CodeNameMama

        Tim – please read through that and tell me where the AAP distinguishes between “spanking” and “hitting.”

        On p.727, where that quote comes from, it reads:
        2. Spanking of young children is highly correlated with continued spanking of school and adolescent children. More than half of 13- and 14-year-olds are still being hit an average eight times per year. Parents who have relied on spanking do not seem to shift strategies when the risks of detrimental effects increase with developmental age, as has been argued…
        5. Although children may view spanking as justified and symbolic of parental concern for them, they rate spanking as causing some or much pain in more than half of cases and generally experience anger at the adult as a result. Despite this, children come to accept spanking as a parent’s right at an early age, making changes in adult acceptance of spanking more difficult.
        6. The more children are hit, the more anger they report as adults, the more they hit their own children when they are parents, the more likely they are to approve of hitting and to actually hit their spouses, and the greater their marital conflict.

        The AAP apparently uses the terms “hitting” and “spanking” interchangeably as well. Nothing in that continuous section text (or the rest of the publication, from what I’ve read) distinguishes between the two. The only distinguishing characteristics the AAP attributes between “spanking” and “abuse” is on 725-26, where it refers to “striking” a child with an object, etc. (Interestingly enough, Merriam Webster refers to spanking as “striking,” so . . . take that as you will.)

        The source does say that “.90% of American families reporting having used spanking as a means of discipline at some time,” but it does not say that 90% of families use spanking consistently. That 90% includes parents who let their anger go too far one time, and then realized that they no longer wanted to use violence against their children in the name of discipline.

        And yes – it does not say it is less effective, but if gentler methods are equally effective with less risk of aggressive behavior or resentment from our children later, why are parents so eager to keep raising their hands to our small children?! Do you realize how horrible it sounds to argue for the hitting of children who weigh a fraction of what you do? Who can’t defend themselves? Who should have the integrity to be free of pain at the hands of people who love them?

        If spanking an adolescent is “wrong,” if hitting an adult is cause for jail time, why is it ok in anyone’s mind to hit a child?

        I have taught my child from a very young age that he can’t touch a hot stove, and I did it by talking gently to him. He’s not stupid – when he feels heat coming from something, he doesn’t want to touch it. We’ve talked about it being an “ouchie.” He knows what it means to get hurt – that’s what toddlers spend a lot of time doing when they walk/run/fall down.
        You don’t give your children enough credit if you think that you need to inflict the pain of spanking in order to drill something into their heads. Why does hitting them drive that point home, and talking to them doesn’t? Our children are learning constantly – and they don’t need us to backhand them to make the lessons stick. Think about how your children can recite whole books to you – they learn by the loving repetition you provide to them each night when you read at bedtime. And please spare me “I can’t give loving repetition with a stove” – I did. I didn’t wait until Kieran walked up and set his hand on a burner, I started instilling a respect for the stove before he could walk. He would watch me cook and we would talk about the heat. When he started helping me cook, we talked about how the hot oven would bake things. It’s a process. That’s kind of the point of childhood – it’s all a learning process.

    • I was spanked growing up. I still feel residual anger towards my parents for doing it. Whether it was a flat palm smack on the bottom or a belt being laid against my butt, it was a painful, embarrassing, awful act. Did I learn to behave? No. I learned to be afraid. How ‘loving.’

      How can we teach our children it’s wrong to hit when we smack them? How many times have I heard a mother say, “Don’t hit him!” and then hit their child on the bottom? Too many times to count.

      Might does not make right. You are an adult with a fully functioning brain and the ability to reason. Your toddler/young child isn’t and can’t.

      Hitting is never done ‘out of love.’ It is done out of frustration, then later qualified as a ‘loving act’ to balm the parent’s guilt over raising a hand in anger/frustration to a person who trusts them completely.

      • Dionna   CodeNameMama

        James – I can only assume you meant that as sarcasm. Surely you don’t approve of hitting adults in the name of “tough love”?

    • Heather   xakana

      As someone who was both spanked and beaten (and chose not continue the cycle of violence with my children), I can tell you right now that there is no difference to the child. I remember before the abuse began and no, I did not feel different then, except more humiliated, violated and degraded, than I did when it became legal abuse.

      My husband was raised without “spanking” (which is just a fancy word for hitting–it’s even defined as hitting/striking in the dictionary) and he’s a helluva better person than I am. None of the people I know who were raised without being hit have any of the issues (including antisocial behaviors–speaking with the real definition of the word, not the popular one) that I or my “just spanked” peers have (and some of them have worse antisocial issues than I do).

      And it has ZERO to do with “CPS” (who doesn’t give a flying monkey’s behind about hitting kids as long as the marks don’t last longer than 24 hours, which anyone with any education on the system knows). I know dozens of mothers who don’t believe in hitting kids and not a SINGLE ONE cites fear of losing her children. Every single one is seeking to give their child a better life than they had or than other children they knew growing up had (as almost universally, children who weren’t hit growing up grow up to not hit their children–or anyone else, while the vast majority of violent offenders agreed that they were spanked, on levels from “normal” to “abusive” when surveyed in prisons… and pretty much any intelligent person can work out the percentage of falsely imprisoned persons vs. those who did not claim to be physically punished isn’t that far off).

      I hate every time I feel like hitting my kids because it was the only tool I was given growing up for dealing with undesired behaviors. I hate every violent impulse in my body that lasts from my violent upbringing. I resent every ignorant punishment I was given, as they taught me nothing but to sneak around, distrust adults and authority and that what’s wrong is getting caught. Unlike the times where my mom got over herself and talked about why what I did was wrong and the (possible) consequences it has on myself and others, which I still remember and have no problem avoiding those behaviors. I don’t remember a single reason why I was ever “spanked” even though I’m sure she told me. I just remember the rage, embarrassment, feeling of failure and desire to ‘get even’ that resulted.

  5. Summer   summerminor

    If an adult is unable to control themselves and teach/guide/lead their child towards acceptable actions without using their hands in an act of violence (yes, giving it a cutesy name or pretending that hitting magically becomes not hitting because you said so does not mean it is not violent) then that adult needs to learn to walk away.

    Hitting is never done as an act of love. You may be able to temporarily lie to yourself, you may convince your children that violence is love (and oh what a lesson to teach a child!). But the fact remains, hitting is not love. Hitting is not discipline. Hitting is not appropriate. Not with an open hand or closed, not to cause pain or not, not even when nothing else at the moment seems to be working.

    If you would not accept that treatment from your spouse/partner, then you have no reason to do so to your children. Spanking is hitting. There is just no rational way to claim otherwise. That’s like saying lavender isn’t really purple. It’s absurd and ignorant.

  6. Daisy   TooTooDaisy

    Can I ask an earnest question, Mrs. B? You say that with children “There is no negotiating as you do with adults, no compromise as you do with adults, otherwise you open the door for them to walk all over you and not take you seriously.” Why do you assume that permitting negotiation, dialogue and compromise with adults does *not* lead to being walked all over, or conversely that a child is somehow not capable of verbal (non-physical) discussion of consequences?

    And when you distinguish spanking from hitting, are you suggesting that an open-handed swat on a spouse’s behind as a reprimand for not doing as told is alright?

    I know that the web makes things sound sarcastic sometimes and that is not my intent here — really trying to get into your head (which is obviously a very different place than mine).

    • Mrs.B

      Daisy,

      With adults I don’t necessarily care what they do because they aren’t my children. I was referencing that you can’t automatically expect a 3 year old to be rational or understand what is right and wrong. That’s our job as parents. If I let my 3 yr old go around doing as she pleases then I’d be in for it down the road when as a teenager she knows she can get away with anything. I let her know in a calm manner what is acceptable and when her mischievous side comes out (and it does) she gets a (let me reiterate this again) very light swat on the tush. Also I’m not sugar coating it… it’s light, like burping a baby light.

      Funny you talking about swatting my husband. I think that’s another forum :)

  7. I foresee my brother reacting very nastily to me linking to this post on facebook. He’s one of the ‘spare the rod’ types and he actually did have that status a few days ago.

    • James

      Krissy, your brother welcomes all constructive comments and opinions. My only goal is to be the best parent possible. I asked my boys if it is worse when I lose my temper and yell or when I spank. (I do not like spanking by any means) My oldest boy is 10 and has not been spanked in years, he is old enough to beable to reason with and can rationalize consiquences. My 5 and 6 year old boys are rarely spanked (I can count the amount of times in the last year on my fingers of 1 hand). I asked the boys if it is scarier when I yell or spank, the 6 year old said yelling was scarier. The 10 year old said “Dad that is like asking us what kind of chocolate we like better”. I don’t like yelling or spanking, when I yell I lose my temper, when I spank I do it before I lose my temper. Luckily my boys and wife say I yell less then I use to and spankings are extremely rare. Hopefully all parents are striving to improve their parenting skills and that is all I can do. With love to my little sister.

      • Dionna   CodeNameMama

        I agree – I think yelling can be just as scary as spanking. Yelling is definitely something I strive not to do as well.

      • I’m really glad you are yelling less, you know it’s one I work on too. :)

        I don’t believe that ALL spanking is evil. I don’t think that ALL parents who spank suck. (Including you Jimmy) I just… I feel like given the extremely poor parenting examples we had we should probably not default to what we experienced. I think that whereas you (my brother) and I turned out as non-axe-murderers and relatively functional people we have a lot of issues. And uhm… let’s not get into how our siblings grew up. :( I feel like there has to be a better way. I’m trying really hard to find it. I just can’t see how teaching my child that hitting is *ever* the answer to a problem is the better way.

  8. RenderMeMama   RenderMeMama

    See, as a child who was spanked, I totally agree with this post. My parents started out with a “swat” to the butt when I was very young, which eventually graduated to a “tap” with a belt and eventually ended at a “slap” to the face as I got older. I have seen first hand the effects of spanking and I still struggle with anger issues. It is something that effects my life of two young, strong willed boys every. single. day. I have and will never lay a hand on my boys because I KNOW how it feels to be “swatted with an open hand”. I still remember the feelings of shame and worthlessness because my parents had hit me. Some of my earliest memories are from that and that is not how I want my boys to grow up. Fearing me like I feared my parents.

    Spanking DOES affect your kids lives. Its been proven again and again. The studies are even sited here for you to read. How does anyone know at the time how it is going to affect your child’s life and personality later on? I think we all can agree that the primary way children learn is by example and my choice is to be the kind of example that does not condone any type of physical punishment.

    I have seen the “likey” myself and been tempted to creat my own, just like you.

  9. I had 4 spankings in my life, and I remember all of them. I also can say that I deserved every single one of them.

    My dad would talk to me about what I did wrong, and tell me that I had to be punished, but that it would be harder on him than it was on me. And it always was.

    • Thing is, I was spanked on three occasions in my life and I feel none of them were warranted. One of them followed directly on the heels of me being violently raped when I was 7 years old because I came home behaving very badly and my mother didn’t bother finding out why. I don’t feel that personal experiences tell the story behind spanking as an overall concept very well. There are *always* going to be points for and against things. The overall results taken as an aggregate aren’t good. That’s good enough to prompt me to look for a better way.

      • Ileana

        Wow, sorry to hear what had happened to you when you were 7. But in reality, you being spanked after a violent rape sounds like abuse and not spanking. And your moher not bothering to find cause reads to me like neglect. And lets not forget you comming home (not with your parents) at age 7 also shows neglect. Even if you were brough home by an adult, you parents didn’t bother to inquire about your day? It reads to me, and forgive me for being forward, that your issue isn’t about being spanked but about being physically and emotionally abused. This leads me to another point, all these stats about prisoners experiencing spanking when they were kids were more likely in reality physically/verbally/emotionally abused. The term spanking is just too widely used to describe abusive scenarios. I do agree that other means of dicipline should be used first and formost but I don’t rule out spanking entirely.

      • Dionna   CodeNameMama

        Ileana – I think accusing a parent of neglect after a 7 yr old comes home alone is a little exaggerated – many children (myself included) play down the street/in the neighborhood with friends when they are 5, 6, 7 years old. Coming home after a play date with a neighbor is not neglectful. And what if the rape was from someone she knew? What if she’d been brought home by an adult? By the rapist?
        And it’s neglect for a parent not to ask about a child’s day?!?! What about those parents who ask about the day, but then don’t really listen to the answer? Or ask, and the child answers but doesn’t fill them in because they’re too scared to tell?! That’s a really irresponsible definition of neglect. It could be described as a poor or lax parenting moment, but technical neglect? We can’t all be on the ball, all the time.

        Regardless, there is only ONE statistic up there about prisoners. The rest are about NON-prisoners – regular old people who are SPANKED. Not “abused” in the traditional sense – these studies are about SPANKING. And I’m sure if you read each study, you would find the precise definition of spanking – the definition of which is widely accepted by the medical community as “acceptable.”

      • @ Ileana-

        We were living in a trailer park. I was somewhere in the middle range of ages of children who all played freely from home to home all summer long. I came home screaming at one of the neighborhood boys (my rapist) every curse word I knew, and I knew a lot. My mother had been battling my proficiency with swearing for months. When I came up the stairs (upset, yes) but mostly screaming every swear word I knew… no she didn’t react well because she had done just about everything she could think of shy of spanking me for swearing. That time with the frequency and sheer quantity of words, especially in public–poor kids are judged far more harshly for inappropriate public behavior and my mom knew it, she spanked me. It wasn’t a horrible beating. It wasn’t actually even all that painful because my mom isn’t a big woman.

        Yes, my childhood involved a lot of abuse. Very little of it came directly from my mother. My mother’s ‘neglect’ usually came from the strain of living in poverty and *having* to work a lot of hours. So your response sounds like the typical middle class judgment to me. She spanked under circumstances the vast majority of pro-spanking people would agree with. She didn’t fly off into a rage.

        So yeah. Check your privilege.

  10. Ruth Ann

    I am the Mother who occassionaly spanked Dionna!! I will admit that I wish now that I hadn’t but I look at the fabulous woman that she has turned into and I praise God for her everyday!!!
    I want to take this in a slightly different direction if you don’t mind. What about the verbal abuse that I witness on a daily basis where I work in a public place? I see parents, grandparents, adults berating little children in a way that I would never EVER dream of talking to another adult…much less a defenseless, impressionable little child. And then we wonder why the children grow up to be verbally and physically abusive to others around them…why they have to respect for others and take delight in being cruel to everyone they meet!!! I find that physical and verbal abuse go hand in hand…if you get out of control in one area of your life then you are more likely to get out of control in the other area too.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I don’t disagree with you – I don’t agree with yelling either. It’s an area that I have more trouble with (I don’t yell so much as I get vocally angry – but neither is any better), but it’s something I’m conscious of and am working on.

  11. Bonnie @BonniesBows   BonniesBows

    I have to agree- what a great thing that we can disagree and argue our points respectfully. It’s a nice change of pace from some forums. :-)
    @AFWifey- I have very similar thoughts!

  12. Andrea

    What a timely post. This has come up several times lately, most recently today as I listened to two coworkers trying to justify spanking their kids. It’s also come up at my husband’s work where a grandmother commented “we keep spanking and spanking him and he’s still doing it.”

    Did you read about the study released this week in Pediatrics about the link between aggression and domestic violence among adults in a household and the use of corporal punishment? “The presence of even minor forms of aggression between parents, such as criticism and controlling behaviors, were linked with increased odds of using corporal punishment with young children.”

    Violence is a learned behavior and it’s not something we should be teaching our children.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I haven’t read that one yet, but I don’t doubt it at all. Hitting is hitting is . . . hitting.
      Here’s what it comes down to for me: we’re all human beings, regardless of whether we’re 6 feet tall or 3 feet tall, of whether we’ve been on the earth 50 years or 2.5. We all deserve to be free from physical assault, in whatever form it takes. Children the world over learn and grow into caring, productive adults without being hit/spanked/abused, it is up to us as parents/adults to recognize when we are on the verge of degrading a child (by yelling or spanking) and stopping ourselves.
      I don’t like to yell at my husband, nor do I hit him – I want to extend the same courtesy to my child.

  13. mamapoekie   mamapoekie

    I once read an article that there isn’t one delinquent who wasn’t spanked as a child. Something to think about

  14. Alan   slackerinc

    I am the father of a ten year old boy, a seven year old girl and a five month old girl. I have never spanked and believe spanking is wrong. I generally consider myself a fan of “AP” (attachment parenting). And I believe that the Dr. Sears advice on discipline is generally excellent.

    However, I do think that in their understandable desire to get away from overly harsh and punitive parenting practises, some parents who call themselves “AP” go too far the other way and do in fact end up raising spoiled, out of control kids that come across as “brats” to the outside world–not because they are inherently bad kids but because their misguided, overly permissive parents have not laid down any rules or boundaries. These parents shun not only spanking but even time-outs and the like. That way lies madness.

    My older two kids are constantly receiving compliments for their good manners. And yes, I think it’s because I’ve raised them right. In addition to raising them in a loving, attached manner, they also learned at appropriate ages that they would be punished if they acted rudely, violently, or were not sufficiently careful with their property or that of others (again, as age appropriate). These punishments are meted out calmly, consistently, and fairly, and I’m always willing to explain the reasoning and even entertain a certain amount of respectful debate (and I will on occasion change my mind if they make a good enough argument why my judgement was hasty). But once I feel I’ve heard enough to make a final ruling, I “bang my gavel” (not literally) and that’s the end of the argument. Parents still have to be the ultimate authority.

    At a certain point in toddlerhood, my son decided to see what would happen if he just blew me off completely. He was sent for a short timeout (probably three minutes as I believe in the one minute per year of age guideline) for some transgression I don’t recall. It dawned on him that my verbal instruction to go into timeout did not carry independent magical force. So he just refused. I more sternly (but still calmly–very important) told him he had to do it. Still no dice. So I gently picked him up to take him to time out. At this, he went into tantrum mode, writhing and flailing and kicking and trying to bite me. So I took him to the couch and put him in a full-body “hug”, preventing him from hurting me.

    So in a sense that many “APers” would not like, I got physical with him. But I never shouted at him, acted angry, or tried to inflict pain. I just restrained him. And this only had to happen once: from then on, he respected (even if sometimes grudgingly) that time-out “sentences”, once issued, must be served in full. At this point it has been over a year since he has even needed to be put in time-out, and we have a very warm and close relationship as I do with all three of my kids.

    My point though is that you can’t let a three year old go wild and break things or hit you and just try to plead with them to be nicer, try to appeal to their sense of empathy. This is the wrong road down which to head, and I have seen it happen too many times. What’s frustrating is that when mainstream parents see it, they chalk it up to AP being a failed philosophy, when in fact Dr. Sears would never go for this kind of permissive parenting.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Alan – thank you for your thoughtful comment! I agree that many parents are confused about how to “do” gentle discipline, and end up doing *no* discipline. It is definitely our responsibility as parents to model for our kids the appropriate way to act, to help them learn social niceties, etc. etc.
      We do not, however, do timeouts with Kieran. He’s 32 months, and he is a very “well-behaved” toddler – with his normal toddler moments of course. I agree with a lot of what Alfie Kohn has to say about rewards and punishments, and we follow a more consensual living philosophy. A quick google search on the subject gives me:
      http://www.awareparenting.com/timeout.htm
      http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/15/health/15mind.html?_r=1&scp=3&sq=alfie%20kohn&st=cse
      If you’re interested in more, I would be happy to find more resources for your reading enjoyment :)

      Another book that might really resonate with you (and isn’t just about timeouts, but I think there is a chapter) is Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen. Absolutely my favorite parenting book, not specifically “gentle discipline,” but it smacks of it.

    • Heather   xakana

      Like Dionna, I agree that being absent as a guide from your children’s lives does lead to that sort of thing, most definitely. But the ineffectiveness of time-outs has been documented as well, while other methods such as logical consequences showing a better track record. I, too, am a fan of Playful Parenting.

      I do use a version of time-out where I ask my oldest to leave the room until she is able to cease the behavior that is disrupting/dangerous/injurious. She can go anywhere else and it works as well as my experience with time-outs did (I was a nanny for a few years–11 hours a day, 5-6 days a week and didn’t know anything outside of punitive parenting, so we went with time-outs as the preferable non-violent approach and yes, it deterred the behavior… at our house… my charge was a nightmare as soon as she got home, where she was raised with physical punishment).

  15. “Children are not the people of tomorrow, but people today. They are entitled to be taken seriously. They have a right to be treated by adults with tenderness and respect, as equals.” -Janusz Korczak

    I think that people who spank mostly have good *intentions*, which is why they say it’s done out of love. They believe that if they *make* their kids behave and do what they’re told, they will grow up to be happy, well-adjusted, contributing adults. But getting your desired short-term results through fear will lead to *other* results long-term, such as anger management problems, poor interpersonal skills, and lingering emotional distress from childhood. And many of those spanked children will also grow up to have all the more extreme issues cited above.

    Spanking is also the only parenting method many MANY people know, so they cannot fathom how on earth you can raise a well-behaved child *without* spanking them occasionally. I’m here to say that it can be done: my 16-year-old told me not two days ago that people who get into fights are utterly ridiculous; don’t they know how to talk out their problems without hitting? Both he and his nine-year-old brother are very polite and well-behaved because we treat them with respect, use manners, and model good behavior.

    “We are the adults, they are the children, simple. There is no negotiating as you do with adults, no compromise as you do with adults, otherwise you open the door for them to walk all over you and not take you seriously.” (Mrs. B, above)

    That statement is simply not true. That’s what our parents thought and want us to believe, but it is not true. Hold kids responsible for their actions (just like you would any peer) and they will surprise you. Bully an adult and you’ll get resistance; demand something from an adult and you’ll get defiance or quiet acquiesense with building resentment. If you’ve ever had a jerk for a boss, you know the feeling.

    Children are people, too, who will react the same way to the same treatment. Why do we expect kids to take the crap we give them and be *grateful* for it?

    Choosing respectful parenting over spanking and punishments requires a paradigm shift. It requires seeing children as *people* not minions. Until a person experiences that shift in thinking, they won’t be able to see the other side of this debate.

  16. Momifer

    Hitting hurts, and hurting is WRONG.

    Retaliation leads to escalation.

    Stop the violence, people.

    Breathe, count to 10, 25, 100; use your words; treat people the way *you* want to be treated (do you want to be hit if you make a mistake? No, you want someone to tell you why this was a mistake, and help you correct it, if possible, or tell you how to avoid it in the future); be kind; love; spend time outdoors each day; pray; just please, please, don’t hit. It’s wrong. It hurts people. They are so little, and they have so many years to learn right from wrong. Don’t hit.

  17. Bonnie @BonniesBows   BonniesBows

    I’m not trying to start a ‘fight’, but I have a serious question. Years ago most children were disciplined by spanking or some form of physical punishment (ie my Granny would ‘pinch’ my Dad in church if he was misbehaving). Why is it that now, with all the studies and alternative ways of discipline, so many more children that are so wildly out of control that they are murdering and vandalizing and abusing others at so much of a higher rate? Why are there so many more ‘behavioral problems’ than there were in the 50′s and 60′s. I do realize that a lot of it has to do with social factors and more opportunities to be ‘bad’. But in my opinion, I think a LOT of it has to do with parents not disciplining kids and letting them get away with too much. Possibly because nearly every form of punishment has been declared ‘abusive’- I’m sure there are studies about ‘time out’ making a child ‘feel’ neglected, or taking toys away as punishment causes ‘hoarding’ as an adult.. ect. Everything seems to be the wrong thing as a parent, and ’causes’ some sort of ‘emotional trauma’ for the child. Do you see where I’m coming from? I hope I made sense. And again, not being a butt, just wanting to hear your thoughts on that particular point.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      That’s a loaded question! First of all, we have hundreds more diagnoses – and ways to diagnose – kids now than then. ADD wasn’t even “invented” in the 1950s.
      Second, and more importantly – corporal punishment has been outlawed in many different countries – most (all?) of which have lower rates of incarceration than the US does. Even though the US has one of the highest rates of corporal punishment (90% of parents admit to having spanked), we also have one of the highest rates of incarceration. Obviously, hitting our kids doesn’t mean that they’ll stay out of trouble.
      Honestly, I think the way that the US dehumanizes children, institutionalizes them in school, and makes them feel unwelcome elsewhere (how many times have you seen “adults only” or heard “gosh just keep your kids under control!” “kids need to be obedient” “seen and not heard” etc.), that has more effect on our children’s psyche and feelings of low self-worth, etc. Maybe we should start valuing our children, start making them feel like needed, contributing members of society, start treating them with the respect we want them to give us, start wanting their presence and expecting them to be delightful (because they are!) – and they’ll act accordingly.

    • Heather   xakana

      http://law.jrank.org/pages/12004/Causes-Crime.html

      Nowhere in the psychology of criminal behavior is “lack of punishment” listed. In fact, if you read the causes of violent crime, “The desire for control, revenge, or power” IS listed. These desires stem from a lack of reasonable amounts existent in the person’s life. A child who is punished feels out of control and powerless and often seeks vengeance. We are mostly all aware that bullies are most often children who have been abused at home.

      I was raised with both “normal” spanking and abuse and can firmly say that I felt no difference, except that spanking cause me to feel humiliated and degraded. Despite never being sexually abused, I developed sensory defensiveness when I was 12 (specifically, I panicked whenever I was innocently touched and went out of my way to avoid physical contact with others), which is a symptom of sexual abuse. Spanking has been linked with other symptoms of sexual abuse http://www.nospank.net/101.htm and unnatural sexual behavior http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080228220451.htm

      So, yes, it has detrimental effects, even when rarely used or used in a “normal” fashion. Most people are either unwilling to talk about it or too busy rationalizing it to admit their own psychological damages.

      In the most recent peer-reviewed study (and the first done with a large enough peer group in the non-physically punished group to be considered valid by pro-hitting groups), it was shown that children who were punished physically were more likely to have high plans for the future and good grades, but also more likely to display antisocial and criminal behavior.

      • Tim

        We have to be VERY careful when giving ANY generalizations, because there isn’t a single facet of this topic that can be applied generally. EVERY SINGLE HOME IS DIFFERENT, and NOBODY can say with certainty that it was spanking or lack of spanking, or any other single thing that caused whatever issues they have struggled with. Personally, I was spanked MANY times as a child, but never hit in an abusive manner, never in public where I might have felt shamed or embarrassed, and I have grown up to be a positive contributing member of society, free from any major psychological or emotional issues, and a mature, self-disciplined adult.

        I have recently taken a cross country flight with, at the time, 3 young girls (daughter and step-daughters) one age 18 months, and 7 year old twins. All of them were spanked as young children (while 5 or younger) and ALL of them received high praise for how well-behaved they were on a 12 hour flight (including layovers). Not an easy task for any child, but well done by them. The problem is not with the use of spanking, but the overall atmosphere of the home. One variable alone does not make that much of a difference. Only when combined with several other variables do negative consequences occur. Praise God for creating it that way, but none of us will ever be “perfect parents” but we can still raise happy, healthy children in spite of a few mistakes, because ONE mistake or variable will not be enough alone to swing the balance.

      • Dionna   CodeNameMama

        I agree that the one variable (here, spanking) is not enough to turn a child into a juvenile delinquent or an angry adult. On the flip side, you can’t attribute those kids’ ability to be well-behaved on a long flight because they were spanked.

  18. Zac in VA

    It’s also important to consider what else correlates with violence in the home – it’s possible that spanking/corporal punishment is not the cause *of* adulthood criminality or violent behavior, but rather a co-symptom with those things; perhaps all of these things are co-morbid with growing up in poverty.

    Also – in a very anecdotal capacity, my own experiences seem to indicate that people believe that *whatever* happened to them as children is at least tacitly acceptable/appropriate – children who were spanked become adults who seem more likely to consider it a more reasonable or “go-to” option than children who weren’t.

    • Heather   xakana

      Oh, it’s not being pointed out to be the CAUSE of violent crime, merely to state that it does nothing to deter it.

  19. Mrs. B

    Thanks Dionna, I got it:)

  20. Hi, Dionna… So I was going to link a friend who had “liked” that thing to this blog post, but I’m thinking twice about it. The reason is that right in the beginning, you say something about people who “like” that as being “clueless.” Well, even if the facts that build your case are rock solid, as soon as they read that line, they will get defensive and feel belittled and immediately tune out whatever good stuff you’ve gotta say. Unless you just want to spend your excellent writing and research preaching to the choir, please consider your potential audience… you have the power to effect some real change! Just a thought, my friend. Thanks again for all your wonderful work… K is one lucky dude!

  21. Emerald

    Thanks for the post.
    I think if more people knew where spanking actually comes from (part of pagan sexual rituals in ancient Greece….was done to children in the Victorian era when appearances became important), I think a lot less parents would do it.
    Many have been deceived and scared into spanking. I think many parents have good intentions. But it’s good for any parent to really look at why we’re doing what we’re doing.
    I and my husband were spanked as children and it did in fact do damage.

  22. FreeflowMama

    Part 1- I have alot to say about this. Maybe I’m just processing my own stuff. Maybe what I have to say will be valuable.
    This is a very important issue, and just like all issue’s of this nature, is a matter of perspective. One psychologist’s study of serial-killers revealed that most of them had sustained frontal lobe injuries as children. As in, being hit/slapped in the face.
    I was ‘punished’ physically as a child, along with my siblings, I’m sure. Being the youngest of six means I didn’t really see it happen to the others, but I know it did enough to cause me to see it as ‘ordinary’. To coin a friends personal documentary,”awful normal”.
    I was spanked with a hand, a wooden spoon, a belt, and slapped. Not to mention dominated and handled roughly. It didn’t help to have 3 older brothers who felt the liberty to excersize dominance over me and tease me, either. There were other much more violent incidents, mostly because my dad snapped under the pressure from my mother to ‘do something about me’. I was treated harshly, yelled at, emotionally demeaned. I was a very angry young girl and teenager and did lash out violently. I also acted out on many other levels. I cut on myself and struggled to express (feelings,etc). I was labeled as bi-polar at 12 and started on psychotropic medication. My parents placed me into psyche wards, rehabs.. it goes on and on. Eventually resulting in my becoming a ward of the state and no longer living as a part of my family.
    People must start recognizing that the occurances of extreme violence we see more and more among children (esp against children) has alot to do with the medications and not with the child who cannot function due to them.
    Years and years and years later, I am still so deeply affected that I have difficulty functioning as an adult and a mother in the everyday world. I have forgiven my parents and believe that they never intended to cause me long term suffering or abuse. But beleive me, they were also made to suffer because of it too, even legally. And they are growing as individuals.
    Truth is, I recognize that hitting your children as a philosophy of punishment, doesn’t work because even if it gets the intended outcome initially.. one day it will no longer work because your child will be too old and too big for you to push around. They will push back, and may even turn the aggression towards you as a parent. Then what will you do??
    I never wanted to spank my children and we agreed as a couple that it is not an acceptable or healthy approach.
    I try to utilize the philosophy that it is the greater challenge for me as the parent to figure out how to guide my child, instead of reacting. It is not easy. It also requires guiding myself.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Thank you for sharing, I’m so sorry you experienced the abuse and its repercussions in your life. You are amazing for breaking the cycle and giving your children a better life.

  23. Amber

    I’m having some difficulty finding it, but what I’d like to see is some statistics on the outcomes for children who were NOT spanked. If studies showed that kids from non-spanking homes were just as well adjusted as teens or adults, why would parents ever choose to hit them? Yes, I used the word “hit” because that’s what it is. Using your larger body to inflict physical pain on a smaller person is violence no matter what you call it or how you justify it.

    I totally agree with whoever said that most parents are well-meaning, but scared in to thinking that not spanking will make their children out of control brats. My parents followed that line of thinking and I remember my childhood spankings as causing lots of fear and humiliation.

    I for one am glad we’re living in times where all behavior deemed “bad” resulted in spankings. My daughter is autistic, but high functioning enough that she wouldn’t have been diagnosed until about 20 years ago. I cringe when I think what she would have endured if she were born during my generation.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Amber – I remember that Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting had a LOT of research/statistics cited – I wonder if he would have something on kids who were not spanked? The next time I pick it up, I will look for that specifically!

  24. Amy Willa   Amy_willa

    Dionna, I appreciate your post. I am also strongly of the belief that punitive discipline (including all types of physical punishment, from forced time-outs to spanking and all of the in-between) only serves to harm a child.

    If a child is to learn respect, he needs to see and feel respect from his parents and care-givers. He needs a model of respect to follow. Spanking does not give a model for morality or respect. It gives a model for fear-mongering and domination. It only serves to make parents feel bigger and more in “control” and children feel hurt and humiliated. What kind of lesson does that teach a child?

  25. cjm

    Your thesis statistical data is to put it mildly…BS
    You opening salvo of…
    “Eighty percent of prisoners in the United States were abused as children or raised in violent homes.1″. Is so skewed that a 1st year statistics student can see fault in it. Of course you get a negative skewed result when your sample is of a negative pool.

    The question to be asked is should be posed as this…

    What percent of people who were spanked ended up AS prisoners. not what percent of prisoners that were spanked… Your premise is faulty, but when you pose the question thusly you will come of with far different results. The results may not entirely confirm the validity of spanking/CP. but they do NOT cast in in the negative light you so gleefully reveal. Your faulty premise cast a shadow over all of your following conclusions.

    Secondly.. you entire premise that spanked adults somehow turn into overly aggressive sociopathic adults, flies in the face of just plain logic. When you can no doubt point to adults that you know, or even yourself were your conclusions do not apply. In this case your entire postulate is false, particularly when you try to apply it to EVERY CHILD IN The WORLD. (see thirdly below).

    Third and finally… you suffer from the same affliction as those that champion spanking. Like them, you think that your means, methods, and practices, are the do all, mean all, and final word on child rearing…
    You could not be more wrong.
    There is no magic bullet for raising Children and you as a so called “expert” do a disservice to parents who are of weak mind. When you as an “Expert” declare that there is only one way; YOUR WAY.
    Children are different and your do it this way and it will work fails to acknowledge this fact.
    What works for ONE child may not work FOR ANOTHER CHILD even within the same family unit.

    One child may respond to a stern talking to, or time out and suffer no harm. Another may respond better to a swift swat on the rear in the same way.
    YOU on your throne of the educated know-it-all cannot determine what is best, or wise for EVERY child in existence.

    It is pure arrogance on your part to suggest that you can.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I’m looking for the part of my post that said “most people who are spanked will end up as aggressive sociopathic adults” or “in prison.” . . . Not there. Didn’t write it. I was simply pointing out the fact that people who think that spanking is a sure-fire way to avoid prison are incorrect, as the majority of prisoners were, in fact, spanked.

      “Of course you get a negative skewed result when your sample is of a negative pool.” So you agree that spanking is “negative”?

      I’m guessing you haven’t read a whole lot of my site, since you’re making conclusions about my parenting philosophy and the mission of my site that are simply untrue.

      I believe that, in general, most parenting methods will turn out functioning adults. (See the part of the post that says “Spanking is no more effective as a long-term strategy than other approaches…” That said “no more effective,” not “turns children into sociopaths,” not “my way or the highway,” etc.) Heck – I was spanked, and I’m not a sociopath, nor am I in prison (hurrah!). Most of civilization seems to have turned out ok, too.

      I do believe, though, that children who are raised with respect will have better outcomes in terms of communication and respect for others. It only stands to reason that children who see respect and kindness modeled consistently will be respectful and kind. And, as the research bears out, children who are raised with violence (spanking) also tend toward more aggressive outcomes.

      I’m not sure why anyone would choose to argue with treating others with respect and kindness. That is what flies in the face of logic. Using force and violence against children? That is a sign of weakness.

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