But I Was Spanked and I’m OK (response-turned-post)

October 5th, 2012 by Dionna | 23 Comments
Posted in Consensual Living, Gentle/Positive Discipline, natural parenting

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I had a very thoughtful comment to my recent post on “If Spanking Does Not Work in the Long-Term, Why Start Spanking at All?” Because my response turned out to be as long as the original post, I decided to turn it into its own post.1 Let me preface this by saying thank you to Leah – I know spanking is a hot button topic, and I appreciate when we can talk about it respectfully. I encourage evertyone to add their thoughts to the discussion – but please keep it civil.

Here is Leah’s comment on “If Spanking Does Not Work in the Long-Term, Why Start Spanking at All?”:

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.

someecards.com - So . . . when I hit another child, that is bad. But when you hit me, that is

My response to Leah:

Thanks for taking time to read and comment, Leah. I appreciate the chance to discuss things rationally and respectfully. I’m going to try to address all of your points.

With respect to your analogy to breastfeeding. : the long-term effects of breastfeeding are incredible – even though you only breastfeed for a relatively short period of time, both mother and child have life-long health benefits, so I’d say that is a reason to start breastfeeding, even if you do not breastfeed forever! There are some study links/summaries in 101 Reasons to Breastfeed. The same goes for spanking (but in the opposite direction) – the long-term effects are negative, so why do it at all?

As for discipline methods that work from cradle to car keys, I believe that respectful, noncoercive discipline is a method that can work throughout a child’s formative years, and it helps them relate respectfully to adults once they are grown. Why not model for a child how to behave and act from the moment they are born? Why would you hit a child, then turn around and say that it is inappropriate to hit others (both children, when they are children, and adults, when they are grown)? It works for our family to be models of respect and trust, and to treat our children in the way that we want to be treated.

You said that you were obedient as an older child because you “had learnt that [your] parents’ decisions were final and were made for good reasons. [You] also knew that while they wouldn’t smack [you] they might do a range of other things.” My first response to that would be – why couldn’t the child of a non-hitting parent feel the same way? A child does not need to be smacked to learn that parents do things for good reasons. For parents who use other traditional methods of discipline, I think your statement could also be true – there are many popular ways of disciplining that do not involve hitting. Additionally, in our family, it is important to us that our children understand our reasons behind decisions. We’d like children to appreciate the why’s behind decisions, so they can incorporate the same good reasoning for themselves when they are faced with decision making.

Spanking does not teach a child what to do, it teaches a child what not to do.

I think we can agree to disagree that children need to fear adults. Psychologists have explained that children who fear their parents also tend to withdraw and lose trust in them. I would rather have a relationship based on trust and respect.

Moreover, fear inhibits learning; children do not learn well in an environment of fear. “Corporal punishment inhibits learning, interferes with the accomplishment of each of the important developmental tasks of children, and has the potential for physical harm to the child.”2 I’m honestly at a loss as to what good it will do for children to learn via fear – is that a skill we need as adults? I suppose at some primal level it is healthy to have a dose of fear so we don’t go wandering off tall buildings or into pits of vipers, but how does it help with respect to relating to others? I do agree, though, that children can be placed in fear by more than hitting. Yelling, shaming, blaming – these are all things that we endeavor to avoid in our house, too.

I do appreciate that your relationship with your parents is good. But simply stating “I was raised with {insert negative experience}, and I turned out ok,” does not mean the negative experience is optimal or even acceptable. The fact of the matter is that the long-term effects of spanking are overwhelmingly negative. As Patty Wipfler of Hand in Hand Parenting said in her article, “What’s the Problem with Spanking?“:

Many studies have been done on spanking in the United States and in other countries. The evidence is clear that the effects on children are negative. The American Academy of Pediatrics and a long list of other professional societies take a clear stand against the corporal punishment of children, both at home and in the schools.
One large study showed that the more parents spanked children for antisocial behavior, the more the antisocial behavior increased (Straus, Sugarman, & Giles-Sims, 1997). The more children are hit, the more likely they are to hit others, including peers and siblings and, as adults, the more likely they are to hit their spouses (Straus & Gelles, 1990; Wolfe, 1987).
Studies show that even a few instances of having been hit as a child are associated with more depressive symptoms in adult life (Strauss, 1994; Strassberg, Dodge, Pettit & Bates, 1994). A landmark meta-analysis of eighty-eight corporal punishment research studies of over six decades showed that corporal punishment of children was associated with negative outcomes, including increased delinquent and antisocial behavior, increased risk of child abuse and spousal abuse, increased risk of child aggression and adult aggression, decreased child mental health and decreased adult mental health (Gershoff, 2002). It has also been shown that corporal punishment has an adverse effect on a child’s cognitive development.

You mentioned that hitting has been shown to be effective long-term. While I disagree, I have read something that could be construed to support that statement, but with a very important caveat:

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.3

So there is an additional reason not to spank – once it has lost its effectiveness (because children become too old to hit), other approaches to discipline may not work as well. Again I ask, why base relationships with children on control and fear when that approach will ultimately be ineffective?

I’ll end with some links for further reading for anyone who is interested:

What Is the Difference Between Spanking and Abuse? (be sure to scroll to the end of the post for many more links to articles from Spank Out Day)

A Corporal Punishment Fallacy

Discipline or Misdemeanor?

Spare the Rod – Ten Reasons to Not Spank Your Child from Pediatrics for Parents

10 Reasons Not to Hit Your Child from Ask Dr. Sears

Spanking Raises Chances of Risky, Deviant Sexual Behavior

Plain Talk About Spanking

  1. Because, hey – I always need blog fodder!
  2. Characteristics of Educators Who Advocate Corporal Punishment: A Brief Report at 33, (citing Friedman, 1976)
  3. See and A Corporal Punishment Fallacy, citing Guidance for Effective Discipline (see also studies cited in article)

23 Responses to:
"But I Was Spanked and I’m OK (response-turned-post)"

  1. Natalie P.   PaganParent

    I couldn’t agree more with your response. Except one thing. I do believe there could be a time and place, and proper execution of physical discipline. I think it should be given as an option(after gentle guidance and empathy have failed). “You did X, you can have one of three things happen: 1. Clean X, 2. No X for Y time, 3. Three swats on your bum.”

    Parents who use it as a reactionary punishment, often in anger and without restraint, those parents do plenty of permanent damage to their children.

    The problem is, so many of us view it as “normal” it takes a long time to see the actual issues.

    I was beat, and verbally and emotionally abused. I still have trust issues, and found myself in numerous abusive relationships because I really just didn’t know better.

    I have a friend who was raised with very little physical punishment, and was given options as above, and she is well adjusted and actually considers what the potential consequences of her actions may be. She is also more responsible and takes a much more clear view on how to act and what to do.

  2. Dionna   CodeNameMama

    Natalie- I guess my question would be, what’s the point? We don’t do punishment (if you are curious about why not, I would recommend Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn), so the swats option wouldn’t work in our family. I believe children can learn without the infliction of pain, so hitting is out for us. and isn’t the traditional notion of discipline supposed to be about teaching? thanks for reading and contributing to the conversation!

  3. Amy Phoenix   presenceparents


    From Leah’s comment I surmise that fear creates respect which equals trust in the child. spanking = fear = respect = trust.

    I disagree. In my experience and observation of human conditioning this equation does not equate. There are too many other variables to consider.

    Trust doesn’t come through fear, although obedience may be a result of fear. Respect doesn’t come through fear either. Again, obedience may. Some people are happy with obedience masquerading as respect, but it is not. Trust can come through consistency of action or being. If a child can trust a parent to follow through, that may influence the child’s sense of trust for that parent.

    Ultimately, we can never know the full result of harming the body of another person. Spanking harms the body of a child, even if a slight spanking – it is done without permission, may hurt, and is therefore a violation of that body. The internal experience of the child can be reflected in many ways, some unknown to others.

    Another aspect to consider in all of this is that conditioning runs very deep. If a child is brought up in a home where spanking is the norm, it may be very difficult for said child to reach into the depths of how that practice has affected him or her overall. To question the acts of our parents is to question our world. If we potentially disagree with their actions we may be shattering our experience of reality and that is a big undertaking.

    In relation to your point, Dionna, until we question (instead of defend) the actions of those who have come before us (as well as our own) we may not be able to see the truth about spanking or other activities that produce harm in children and others.

    I really hope some people who are new parents or don’t have kids yet see this post. I imagine for seasoned spankers this may feel like a smack in the face, but for those who have not yet spanked or are in the decision process you offer so many alternatives. Thank you.

    There are many, many other ways to create nurturing relationships between parents and children… http://presenceparenting.com/me-to-you/ :)

  4. realmomofnj   realmomofnj

    I think Leah made some really awesome points. Your post, and her reply, have got me thinking. I’m not sure if I’m pro-spanking. I was spanked (not often) when I was little, but the threat of being spanked didn’t inhibit my growth and development. It taught me boundaries and consequences. I was OK with spanking until I had kids of my own, however, and now I’m unsure. I can’t see myself spanking them, but I wouldn’t necessarily say I’ll never do it, either. I could imagine someday making the decision to spank my child, but overall, I think the key is moderation. I don’t encourage daily spankings or spanking as the primary means of discipline, but I don’t believe an occasional spanking or the threat of being spanked will automatically make children fearful and distrustful of their parents. The spankings I received didn’t make me fearful of my parents or make me distrust them. They sent boundaries and taught me about consequences. Sure, there are plenty of nonphysical ways to teach kids these things, and they should be employed first, but if a parent feels they need to resort to a spanking every so often, I’m not upset or offended by that.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I’m sure you are right- one spanking won’t destroy a relationship. but if there are more effective alternatives, why resort to one that devalues and hurts children? I also look at it this way- I’m not allowed to hit another adult. my children will not be allowed to hit others when they are grown, why give them the very confusing message that hitting is ok? food for thought!

      • Nadel

        Just happened to come across this blog pertaining to spanking children and I felt I had to respond. I am a mom and a grandmother who on occasion did spank my children. You say that it’s wrong if we hit and then teach our children not to hit others? Here’s a thought to ponder also: When we discipline our children in ANY possible way-is it acceptable for them to discipline others? I think we seem to be going off the deep end with this. Children cannot do everything parents do. Grownups drink-is it okay for children to do so? Someone said that spanking harms the body and its done without permission. Yet how many parents think nothing of taking their children to fast food restaurants to eat the burgers, fries and other greasy chemical-laden foods that are slowly killing our nation-and that’s done WITH our children’s permission. There is this thing called a middle ground.
        Many of you made some really great points: 1)For instance, when spanking is done out of anger it is wrong. 2)All forms of discipline should be coupled with a discussion about the inappropriate behavior 3) Spankings should NEVER be the only response to inappropriate behavior.
        People are talking about all the so-called studies indicating the “long-term” results of spankings. First I want to mention that no respectable researcher, medical, or mental health professional would ever say that this theory is a fact. Psychological and medical professionals have been proving theories for over a century only to have another professional come along decades later and “disprove” them. Trust me, in 20 or 30 years people will be looking back at some of our “proven” methods of raising children and shaking their heads.
        And just a side note: the latest “theory” on the spanking issue in the psychological world is that it depends upon the culture.
        For those of you who have found the answer to teaching your children right and wrong without using physical punishment, I say awesome :-)! For those of you who feel that an occasional swat on the bottom works, I say awesome to you too :-)!

      • Dionna   CodeNameMama

        Thank you for commenting so respectfully, Nadel – I appreciate the chance to have a dialogue! I only have a few minutes, but I want to briefly respond:

        In response to the argument that grown-ups can do many things that kids cannot do: my gut reaction comes back to the fact that for the most part, it is not acceptable for grown-ups to use violence – to hit – to solve problems. If you hit an animal, you could be charged with a misdemeanor. If you hit an adult, you could be charged with a felony. Why is it ok to hit a child? I would argue that it is not. It is not ok to hit another human being.

        Because I feel this way, I do not feel that it is an apt analogy to say “well grown-ups can vote, and kids can’t.” Because there are certain things that we have to mature into – and I do not believe hitting is one of them.

        As far as theories on spanking, you’re right, sometimes researchers find different outcomes when they tweak their research, take away a variable, etc. But there is a mountain of research showing that there are negative outcomes associated with physical punishment. From the degradation of children’s self-esteem, to the increase in aggressive behaviors, there is simply too much evidence that spanking harms children.

        Spanking harms children.

        And there is another mountain of evidence that shows I can connect with my children and get the same – or better – results from my parenting. I can parent positively and raise a healthy, happy, functioning member of society.

        Why would I ever want to hit my child when I could achieve the same (or better) results more peacefully? For me, it comes down to my personal choice – I choose not to hit. I respect my children too much to hit them.

  5. Shannon @ GrowingSlower   growingslower

    This is such a great discussion. For our family spanking is not a method we choose to use because we do not believe it is effective. I would rather have a relationship with my son based on respect and build his character long term than ‘fixing’ an undesirable behavior in the moment with spanking.

  6. Jessica

    Spanking is just not an option for me. Never mind all of the evidence. As angry and frustrated as I can sometimes get with my son (who is 2.5), I just can’t imagine what the look on his face would be if I hit him. To him, Mama = comfort, safety, and security. I could never break that bond of trust.

  7. I am really appreciative of the respectful discussion that’s happening here. All too often the topic of spanking results in hot tempers and hurtful words being thrown about.

    That being said, I believe hitting a child is wrong. I tell my sons “Hand are for helping; we don’t hit” and I mean the “we” part of it. We also don’t use punishments at our house. Not at all. And the beautiful thing about unconditional parenting (I highly recommend Alfie Kohn’s book!) is that we don’t NEED punishment after we decided not to use it.

    My husband and I, as the adults, modified *our* behavior. This was very difficult to do, and is still a challenge on those days when everyone is running late and tempers are running high. But making a conscious effort to change patterns of behavior laid down from our own childhood is a daunting task.

    I’d love to read a post about how you decided to parent without punishment, Dionna. I read a lot of blog posts about “we do it this way” but not as many about “how we decided to do it this way”.

    Thanks for keeping the conversation going, and respectful!

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      That is an interesting topic idea – I can’t remember any specific light bulb moment. I do read a lot, so that is a large part of it. But it also comes from the fact that the first time I *did* feel an impulse to strike my child, I was slightly horrified. I’d spent so many months loving him, why would I turn to hurting him in the name of discipline?!

  8. Rebecca

    Interesting post and comments. I was spanked as a child, and I never once in my life thought, “I was spanked, and I (turned) out ok.” Because after introspection (especially after reading Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting), I think how I handle my anger– being impatient and having to overcome my first reaction of hitting someone– stems from being spanked as a child. There is no way that I can honestly say that I wasn’t embarrassed by my parents spanking me (and they didn’t do it often, either!). I always ran straight to my room afterward, crying. Now how does that strengthen communication between parent and child? It doesn’t- it only makes it harder to do so.

    Before marrying my husband, we both agreed to not spank our future children. He wasn’t spanked at all as a child and his temperament is very different than mine (I realize some of this is just personality and not a direct correlation to spanking and anger issues.) It makes me feel good that we’re both on the same page in that regard, and we never need to discuss it as a discipline tool because it’s not an option for us.

    • Amber   AmberStrocel

      I was spanked and I would say I am fine. However, I share that inclination to want to hit in anger sometimes. It never occurred to me that it was a result of being spanked. I just assumed it was something all people felt. You’ve given me some food for thought.

      For the record, I don’t spank my kids, because I believe it’s wrong. I don’t want to act on that anger. But I have had a few occasions where I’ve had to put my hands in my pockets to keep from reaching out and hitting a kid. Children know how to push my buttons, but I believe I need to be the grown-up and respond appropriately.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Such a good point about being embarrassed – it is humiliating to be hit.

  9. kelly @kellynaturally   kellynaturally

    I’ve come as a parent, to pay more attention to my inner voice, the way something FEELS. When you follow your heart, it’s not wrong.

    I think we turn off that mechanism that warns us when something isn’t quite right. Our “logical” brain tends to override our instinct – but it’s our instinct that keeps us (or others) from harm.

    In the case of spanking children – I have a very hard time believing that if parents really honored that deep feeling within themselves when they go to spank their child (who is so much physically smaller than they are), there’d be far less violence in the home.

    You can always “teach lessons” later, after everyone cools down, when you can talk without anger or frustration or fear.

    When you are responding to your children by hitting, you’re ignoring that inner voice that is telling you: don’t do this, it doesn’t feel right.

    Don’t ignore your heart.

  10. Amy Phoenix   presenceparents

    There are some parents, myself being one of them, who choose to follow their innermost guidance, as Kelly says, … to cultivate trust in ourselves and our children. This often equates to choosing, as Dionna says, to not hit our children to teach them. They learn more than what not to do when hitting or punishment is involved. They internalize shame, fear, and may not even recall exactly what they are/are not supposed to do (except they may be very clear not to upset the parent/adult). They will then direct that toward others, whether or not we tell them they can.

    So, in essence, our children do “discipline” others; they do what has been done to them – in the open, or away from the judgment of adults (this is how I define discipline: http://presenceparenting.com/ways-to-discipline-a-child/). Children learn what they live.

    Those of us walking this path choose to see children as equals, yes equals. Maybe they are “adults in the making”, but they are whole – now. They deserve respect, now. The same respect we want from them. The same respect we want from our spouses, friends, even strangers. This respect must be mutual and it grows from a base of trust.

    To hit a child is a primal urge. Animals may do it, and yes we are in the same mammalian family. We are gifted with intellect, though, along with fruits of the spirit. We can *choose* how to direct our minds, using love (the unconditional type) and honor to guide the way. We can learn new skills – and maybe if we do we can affect future generations in positive ways that have not yet been fully discovered.

  11. Annie

    Oh, my gosh. All these justifications couched in thin analogies, etc.

    Most people don’t respect their children as human beings. No wonder kids act out.

    It it not ok to be violent to human beings, much less those who are so much smaller and weaker that it’s nothing less than bullying.

    If you can’t recognize the fact that most children (as well as companion animals) are never happier than when they’re being cooperative, you should NOT have children.

    End of story.

  12. Debbie

    Dionna, thank you for your thoughtful posts and respectful replies.

    Have you visited Parenting without Punishing/Norm Report/Step-Up to Stop Hitting all at nopunish.net
    Also, Jordan Riak etal re: punishment in schools and
    spanking…..we still have far to go – revisit this topic on a regular basis

  13. Ursula Ciller   ursula_ciller

    Two very nice perspectives. The weird thing is that I relate to and agree with BOTH of them. While I was spanked as a child, I wasn’t thrashed and I did want to avoid doing wrong things as a result. I have 2 kids, both of them very different temperaments. One responds positively to mild discipline while it actually feeds defiance and haughtyness in the other – very undesirable to put it mildly. In general, for my lot the best approach is to reinforce the desired behaviour through calm insistence, less talk (I always think of Elvis!!), and no smacking at all. If I loose my cool, so do my tiny tigers! They reflect me so much I actually wonder if I’m looking into a mirror of time.
    Kids do not alway know what is good for them (just give them candy and you will see what I mean). They don’t understand about tooth decay, diabetes, amputated limbs, retinal blindness, obesity and it’s related morbidity and mortality. They is why they need grown-ups guidance for a healthy diet, there is no doubt about that. And the same applies for good character building – it doesn’t just happen. I think both of you have different perspectives and both have good parenting techniques and your kids will be greatful. One size just doesn’t fit all.

  14. Michelle

    I was spanked as a child and I turned out to be great. A spanking let me know you broke the rules or was disrespectful and this will be the consequences for your actions. I was not beaten but I was spanked. The generation of this day has it all wrong. When you take away discipline in your home you are creating children who think they are entailed in this world. I was one of six kids and we were all spanked and not a one of us are worse because of it.
    I am grateful that my dad and mom brought us up this way. I am just sad for the generation of kids being brought into this world who have no structure and discipline in their lives.This tells we why we have such chaos in our schools today. I went to school in the 70s and I did not see chaos in my school. You want to know why? I will tell you why children where told to mind their authority and spanked if they did not mind.What a messed up world we live in. :(

    • Michelle, I can assure you that while we do not spank, our home is not devoid of discipline. Discipline means “to teach,” and there are many more teaching opportunities one can have with children who are not fearful of physical punishment from their caregivers.

    • Michelle, I also went to school in the ’70s, and while I wouldn’t call it “chaos” there were daily discipline problems in my classrooms. My school principal paddled many of the kids who were sent to his office when teachers couldn’t control them. Almost all families I knew spanked their kids several times a week; about half used a belt or a wooden paddle. My own parents used gentle discipline most of the time but did spank occasionally–they estimate they spanked me about 10 times between ages 3 and 8. From an early age I noticed a big difference between myself and my peers: When there were no adults around, they would see what they could get away with, eagerly doing things that were forbidden–whereas I tended to control my behavior even when nobody was watching because *I* would know what I did and feel bad about it. The other kids behaved only when they saw a high risk of getting caught and punished. I behaved because it felt like the right thing to do.

      I’m a developmental psychologist working for a research study on male criminal activity and related factors. Like many other research studies, ours shows that boys who are spanked (especially those who are spanked frequently and those who don’t get much positive discipline) are more likely to commit violent crimes, including murder. By the way, as spanking has become less popular among American parents and has been banned in more schools, violent crime in America has decreased.

      Dionna, thanks for the great article! You might be interested in what I wrote about the role of fear in discipline, which includes addressing the argument that you “have to” spank a child who runs into traffic:

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