To Spank or Not to Spank?
By Elizabeth Pantley
In my house, my father had a belt hanging on a hook in the
was a visible reminder to be good or to be put over his knee. We were
all afraid of that belt. One day, my father couldn't find it.
Eventually it was found-in the trashcan-my little sister, then age six,
had decided the garbage would be a better place for it! She was due for
a spanking and was trying to avoid it. Once discovered, she knew her
spanking would be worse than ever. When my father put her over his knee
he noticed that her little rear end had been replaced by a large lumpy
surface-wadded up towels in her underpants! Boy did he get angry! He
pulled out the towels, pulled down her pants, and proceeded to hit her.
I can still remember the welts on her bottom after her bare skin was
hit with that belt. I remember thinking, "Yuk!" As a mother with four
children of my own, the memory brings tears to my eyes. The odd thing
about this story is that both my sister and I remember the spanking;
but neither of us can recall what the behavior was that caused it. We
know that our father must have been trying to teach a lesson. The
lesson, however, has been lost. The memory of the spanking is all that
Our parents punished us the same way in which they were
punished. And their parents punished them the same way in which our
grandparents were punished as children. After all, we learn what we
live. We tend to parent the way we were parented. Somewhere along the
line parents need to stop the pattern. They need to evaluate their
child-rearing methods, especially checking for those destructive
practices that they may be following simply out of habit. Parents need
to research the current data, analyze their current parenting results
and continually look for better answers.
I have four children. They are respectful, responsible,
well-behaved and just plain great kids. I don't believe in spanking,
and have used only positive, loving discipline with them. Parents often
ask me whether they should spank their children or not. When looking at
the issue of spanking, I urge them to consider the following:
- Spanking does nothing to teach a child to develop inner
discipline. A child's focus is on the spanking itself, not on a review
of the behavior that led to it. After a spanking, a child does not sit
in his room and think, "Gee, I sure goofed. But I really learned
something. Next time I'll behave." Instead a child is typically
thinking, "It's not fair! She doesn't understand! I hate her."
- Spanking is seen as punishment for a crime, payment for a
debt. In other words, once paid, they have a clean slate. Spanking gets
in the way of allowing a child to develop a conscience. The guilt that
follows misbehavior is a prime motivator for change. Spanking takes
away the guilt, because the crime has been paid for.
- Spanking makes the parent feel better. When we get angry,
we move into the "fight or flight" mode. Our adrenaline
increases, and we have a primitive need to strike out. Hitting releases
this negative energy, and helps us feel better.
But even a minor spanking can escalate into major abuse. Parents have
reported that during the heat of the moment it's hard to stop hitting,
and some say that they don't even realize how hard they've hit until
they see the bruise.
- Parents who spank sometimes come to rely upon spanking as
their primary source of discipline. If you give yourself
permission to spank, it becomes a quick fix for all kinds of problems;
it blocks off the effective use of other more productive skills.
- Spanking gets in the way of a healthy parent-child
relationship. Children look up to their parents as protectors,
teachers, and guides. When a parent breaks that pattern by hitting a
child, the relationship suffers.
- Spanking is not an effective form of discipline. Hitting a
child typically stops a behavior at that point
because of shock, fear or pain. But most children turn around and
repeat the same behavior - sometimes even the same day! Parents who
spank often find themselves spanking a child many times a day - so if
spanking "works" why is this so?
- Spanking is not humane or Christian behavior. I know there
are many Christian families that believe in spanking. They often quote
to me from the Bible, "Spare the rod and spoil the child." Now, I am
not an expert on the Bible, but I am a Christian, and from that
position only do I give you this opinion. I believe that the "rod" as
referred to here mean a tool of discipline. In the days of the Bible, a
shepherd used a "rod" to guide his sheep - he did not hit them with it.
His rod was seen as a symbol of his authority over the animals, not a
tool to cause them pain. I also ask you these questions: If God walked
into your home today and saw your child misbehave, would he hit your
child? I would say definitely not! Would he discipline your child?
Would he teach your child? Would he guide your child? I would say yes,
- Spanking does teach a lesson. The lesson is: "When you
don't know what else to do - hit!" or "When you're bigger you can hit."
Or "When you're really angry you can get your way by hitting." It's
common knowledge that children who are frequently hit are more likely
to accept the use of violence, and are more likely to hit other
children. It only makes sense, because, after all, children learn what
they live. Children who are spanked often have more resentment and
anger, and lower self-esteem.
Even with these points in mind I've read several articles that
the issue of spanking where the writer says it's okay to spank if the
child is in danger - for instance, if a toddler is running into the
street, or reaching out to touch a hot burner on the stove. They
suggest that at these times a few pops on the rear end are okay. I must
admit this naïve mindset baffles me. Why in the world would we
want to teach our children about safety by hurting them? Does your ski
instructor jab you with his ski pole to teach you not to jump off the
A parent who believes that spanking is the only effective way
to teach a young child about safety issues is not giving the child
enough credit. Children - even little ones - can indeed learn about
safety through our teaching them.
As a matter of fact, through teaching they will learn much more,
as they can absorb the reason for the rule, and over time, can learn to
make good decisions on their own. I watched two friends one summer
teach their toddlers not to run in the street Mom A give her toddler a
swat on the rear every time
he went in to the street. Mom B picked up her toddler, looked him in
the eye, and said, "NO street! Dangerous. Stay by Mommy." By the end of
the summer, both children learned to stay out of the street. Which
child understood why? And which child has better communication with his
Positive, respectful, consistent discipline is the real key to
raising well-behaved children.
Excerpt from Kid Cooperation,
How to Stop Yelling, Nagging and Pleading and Get Kids to Cooperate by
Elizabeth Pantley (http://www.pantley.com/elizabeth, copyright
1996). Reprinted by permission from the author.