If Spanking Does Not Work in the Long-Term, Why Start Spanking at All?

October 4th, 2012 by Dionna | 3 Comments
Posted in Carnival and Special Series, Consensual Living, Gentle Discipline Ideas, Successes, and Suggestions, Gentle/Positive Discipline, natural parenting, Respond with Sensitivity

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crying girl

Hypothetically speaking, let’s say there is a parenting practice with the following attributes:

  • while it usually results in immediate compliance, it is generally ineffective in modifying longer-term behavior (it is even ineffective from hour to hour or day to day);
  • it causes strain on the parent/child relationship; and
  • it can only be used for a few years of the child’s life, outside of those few years it is totally ineffective and/or inappropriate.

What, exactly, is attractive about that? Yes, there is that immediate compliance, but if the parenting practice doesn’t even result in changed behavior an hour later, why waste the effort?

Why not try something that actually works?

The general consensus is that there is an age range in which it is “appropriate” to spank.

According to the “experts” (and the forum threads and article comments I’ve read online), you should not spank babies younger than about 15-18 months, and you should not spank children past the age of 7 years.1

If you know that the “solution” of spanking is only a short-term “fix,” why do it at all? If spanking is one of your parenting tools, you will eventually have to toss it out of your toolbox. What will you do after it is no longer appropriate to threaten your child physically?

How will you relate to your kids when the threat of spanking no longer hangs over their heads?

Even if we ignore the many negative long-term effects of spanking (especially on girls), it simply makes no sense to rely on a method of discipline that will only work for a few short years. “Lasting authority cannot be based on fear[,]” so where will your authority lie after your children no longer fear your hand or your belt?2

Instead of creating a parent/child relationship based on fear and mistrust – as spanking often does – it is healthier and more effective in the long run to create a relationship based on trust and respect. Gentle discipline and playful parenting techniques are healthy and effective tools that work from toddlerhood to the teenage years.

Those few years that parents are “allowed” to spank are also the years that our children are forming lasting mental impressions of us.

Would you rather your child form an impression of trust, or of fear?


This post has been edited from a version previously published at API Speaks.

  1. I choose not to link to any of these “experts” or discussion boards, because I do not want to contribute to their traffic. If you’re interested, I’m sure you can find several sites to this effect on Google.
  2. Ask Dr. Sears, “10 Reasons Not to Hit Your Child

3 Responses to:
"If Spanking Does Not Work in the Long-Term, Why Start Spanking at All?"

  1. Leah

    Actually, studies have shown that smacking is very effective in modifying behaviour in the long-term. Most parents will tell you that you don’t need to threaten your children with spanking past a certain age (although in my experience most are happy to spank their children up to about age 9 or 10 rather than 7) because they’ve already learnt the lesson. They’re not perfect, but you can tell them ‘stop doing that’ and they will stop (normally – not always!) And the idea that it’s a useless tool just because it’s only effective for a few years is stupid. You only breastfeed your child for a short period so why bother starting?? Because you don’t have to keep doing it forever for it to have good long-lasting impacts.

    As an older child I knew the threat of spanking didn’t hang over my head, but I was still obedient because I had learnt that my parents’ decisions were final and were made for good reasons. I also knew that while they wouldn’t smack me they might do a range of other things. Smacking is just a more effective discipline for a particular age group – refusing a kid use of the car when they are 8 is useless but when they’re 17 it might be a very good discipline tool. Children grow and change and as they do, your discipline methods should change too. If you’re not going to use a discipline method just because you’ll only use it for a few years you’ll probably end up not disciplining your kids at all.

    My parents spanked me and yes, as a child I had a certain degree of fear as all children should do. If a kid does not have some fear of an adult, he won’t respect him. That is becoming very apparent in schools today where teachers are rapidly losing every discipline method available to them. But I trusted my parents far, far more than I feared them. And you can create fear in a child with far more things than just smacking. I feared some of my teachers more than my parents and I assure you none of them smacked me!

    And now as an adult I do not fear my parents but completely trust them. It also does not create a strain on the parent/child relationship any more than any other form of discipline. I grew up with quite a good relationship with my parents, and in the instances of my friends who had strained relationships with their parents, it had absolutely nothing to do with smacking. Most of my friends had good relationships with their parents anyway and 95% of them were smacked. The idea that spanking leads to a relationship built on fear is downright wrong and if that is the result of your spanking, you’re doing it wrong. And I’m a girl.

  2. Thank you for linking to Little Hearts’ alternatives to spanking. Sharing practical, effective, and gentle discipline methods is my passion, and I appreciate every voice out there standing up for children and educating parents about kinder, more peaceful modes of parenting.

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