spanking

The Spanking Debate Continues…


A segment on The Today Show discussed the recent poll by babycenter.com that reports that 49% of Americans spank their kids.

The debate rages on. Is it okay to spank your kids? If so – under what circumstances?

The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend spanking under any circumstance. They state “although most Americans were spanked as children, we now know that it has several important side effects.” They site the following outcomes:

  • Even though spanking may seem to “work” at first, it loses its impact after a while
  • Because most parents do not want to spank, they are less likely to be consistent
  • Spanking increases aggression and anger instead of teaching responsibility
  • Parents may intend to stay calm but often do not, and then regret their actions later
  • Spanking can lead to physical struggles and even grow to the point of harming the child

A recent study from Duke University concluded that spanking does indeed affect a child’s development. In the study, children who were spanked more often at the age of 1 behaved more aggressively when they were 2 and had lower scores on tests that measured thinking when they were 3.

The Duke study went on to say “when parents use physical discipline through childhood, their children experience more behavior problems in adolescence.”

What if the child runs out into the street?

When the child does something dangerous – is that a good reason on spank? I often hear this question from parents. To which I ask a few questions:

  • If your young child runs into the street and you spank her, are you willing to allow her to play unsupervised in the front yard tomorrow? (They usually respond with “of course not.”)
  • Well, you gave her a spanking, why not? (“Well, I can’t feel certain she learned the lesson.”)
  • How many times would you have to spank her before you could be sure she would learn the lesson?

The point of this discussion is not to “judge” parents, but to help them understand that spanking isn’t effective for long-term behavior change.

When our kids are processing pain, anxiety, fear or shame, they aren’t learning for the future. They aren’t thinking about how to make a better decision next time.

More effective strategies for keeping a young child safe is close supervision and being very clear about the consequences. “If you go outside of the yard, we will go inside for the rest of the day.”

Then, ask the child to repeat back the rule and the consequence for going out of the yard. (If she is too young to repeat back to you – then close supervision is the only strategy that you should use.)

If she goes outside of the yard – don’t repeat or remind! Very calmly say, “I see you decided to play inside for the rest of the day.” She’ll learn much more from following through on the consequence than from our lecture or our hand on her butt.

Spanking sends the wrong messages.

It teaches our kids:

  • It’s okay to let out your anger and frustration by hitting someone else. (That’s what we’re trying to teach our kids NOT to do!)
  • A stronger, more powerful person is justified to exert his power over a smaller, weaker person.

Physical punishment also encourages lying. What reasonable child would want to tell the truth when he knows that pain, humiliation, anxiety and shame are going to follow?

“Where did we ever get the crazy idea that we could make kids do better by making them feel worse?” (Jane Nelsen, Ph.D.)

Whether you are among the 49% of parents who spank or not, my mission is giving parents the positive discipline tools so they don’t feel the need to spank. Remember, the word “discipline” comes from the Latin root “discipulus” which mean a pupil, student or learner.

Disciplining our children means training them to behave in appropriate ways and holding them accountable with dignity and respect so they learn to make better choices in the future.

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