I Understand Spanking More Than I Used To

I don’t necessarily encourage such parenting but it worked for my parents and I think my brother and I turned out okay. Spanking aside, my brother and I learned very early that there was an expectation of good behavior and our actions had consequences.

While I certainly do not condone child abuse, it’s a long way from a couple of swats on a well-padded rear end to abusive beatings.

I spank when they misbehave. It’s prevalent in our culture and I’m not ashamed to say that it’s effective and it works.

I know that now a lot of studies have shown spanking not to be effective and even damaging in some cases so that concerns me. But at the same time, I do not feel we were harmed by our spanking experiences as kids. I think maybe there are different kinds of spanking and different reasons and that is what makes the difference.

These are comments from a great discussion over at my personal blog, where the conversation veered into the touchy (ha?) area of corporal punishment. I know it can be enormously difficult to talk about spanking without getting emotional or pointing fingers, and so I was glad to have the opportunity to read through all sorts of calm, well-stated opinions on the subject.

I've been thinking a lot lately about discipline and what kind of approach I want to take to address the various behavior issues that have been cropping up now that my kids are getting older. In so many ways, things are much, MUCH easier than they used to be—and yet I think I'm just starting to understand how as the physical needs subside, the big-kid scenarios are even more intimidating.

At least when they were tiny, it was mostly all about dealing with bodily functions, you know? Now I've got to figure out how to instill respect, provide support, help when it's needed, and push when I have to. Sometimes it seems like these things are all at cross purposes, and there have been plenty of times when I've thought to myself after the fact, Well I fucked that one up good.

So: spanking. I used to say I was against it, that I thought it was wrong for all families, not just my own. I don't know if I still feel this way. It seems to me that there are very few things that are universal in the world of parenting, and that for the most part I can't really judge what goes on in other households.

Of course I also believe that abusing a child is reprehensible. I understand that for some people there is no philosophical difference between cruel mistreatment and a swat on a child's butt for bad behavior, but I don't think I agree with that stance.

For me, however, spanking is not the right option. Ever. I'll tell you why: because if I am in a frame of mind that believes my child deserves to be spanked, I am by definition disqualified from doling out that sort of punishment. If things have gone so badly that I think a spank on the rear end is the only way to get my point across, I am probably either incredibly pissed (child did something insanely obnoxious) or incredibly freaked out (child attempted to walk directly into traffic). A highly agitated person spanking a child? Not something I'm comfortable with. Especially in my own home.

In listening to different perspectives on discipline, I'm realizing more and more that my biggest failing is inconsistency. I am the parent that sometimes says the same thing over and over and over because I don't always apply consequences. It's not that I'm too tender-hearted to do so, or that I want to be my children's best friend—it's just ... I don't even know, really. I guess it's that sometimes I'm tired and sick of it and I don't always know what consequence to use and I essentially find myself begging my children to do what I say. Which, hello, surprise, doesn't always work.

A couple more eye-opening comments:

My sister and I were spanked and we behaved. I don’t think it left any lasting effects, but I also don’t think spanking is the way to go and it certainly doesn’t teach self-regulation. The fact is, real discipline isn’t about punishment, it’s about consistently applying the same message and expectation until the lesson is learned. (...) I don’t know that spanking is successful BECAUSE it’s spanking, so much as it's successful because of how consistently it’s applied.

There are PLENTY of parents who spank who have no authority whatsoever and whose kids run amok. Authoritative parents who spank could just as easily do time-outs, or push-ups, or writing lines, or corporal embroidery. It is their consistency in word and deed coupled with unflagging expectations that gets results.

I truly understand more than I used to why some households rely on spanking. It's not for me, but I think there's always something to be learned in parenthood from hearing a wide variety of stories and approaches. I have a little more clarity on what I need to work on as a result, and regardless of anyone's feelings about corporal punishment, I think that's a good thing.

What's your take on spanking?

behavior, discipline


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nonmember avatar Faith

I was spanked as a kid and it was not okay. I wasn't abused, but I didn't respect my father, who most often doled it out. He was hypocritical and ill-tempered and a liar, and spankings only made me hate him, not respect him. My mother was much more creative and consistent and - surprise surprise - she and I have a better relationship because she wasn't always exerting this physical power over me. I still won't judge other parents, but I wanted to make my voice heard as someone who is NOT okay with how spankings were used in my childhood.

Kirsten Anthony

Can I say that consistency is always the answer. And consequences are needed to deal with unwanted behaviour. What the consequences are is up to the parent but it also has to fit the child. So whether you use corporal punishment or not so long as you are consistent and make sure the consequences are appropriate to the child the child will learn. I use a wide range of them and yes occasionally I still spank but it is a rare thing now and what is more useful is denial of privileges, writing lines, or extra chores. Now that my kids are older these consequences are more effective in driving a point home of what is expected.

L1558 L1558

To each their own. I've spanked (both in a calm state and in a frustrated, agitated one) and unless you just start swatting ANYWHERE because you are upset I don't think it is a sign of a bad parent. I was spanked, and even saw the back of my mom's hand when I mouthed off, but did not grow up "abused" and I do not abuse my child. I have an excellent relationship with my parents and had a healthy fear of them when I was a child and a sense of respect for them as an adult and have be-friended them since moving out of their house at 18. It would be a cold day in Hades before I "begged" my kid to mind me-- she will either do it or there will be consequences (possibly corporal, but not often). Usually it's "you don't mind me, you don't get the next privilege that would have been available to you. The key with whatever you do is being CONSISTENT and keeping in mind that the child will one day use you as an example to gauge their own childhood.

L1558 L1558


Kathy Beckett

YES! Consistency is King (or Queen) If you ask them to do something then they have a choice but if you tell them to do something then they must do it, come hell or high water. You and they must clearly understand the difference too. I don't believe in spanking but my daughter has sat in time out for 45 minutes until she was ready to pick up the freaking books!! I told her to do it and she was going to do it!! When I'm too tired to enforce the consequences, sometimes I'm guilty of not telling them to do something but I think that's the lesser sin than telling them to do something (or not) and not enforcing it.

danie24 danie24

" I learned very early that there was an expectation of good behavior and our actions had consequences"

So did I.. and so did my sisters.. and we didn't have to have our parents cause us physical pain in order for that to happen.

Just because something "works" doesn't mean it's healthy. And it doesn't mean it won't have any negatve imact later on.

There are plenty of abusive things that "work" as discipline or correcting a behaviour.

I will never think intentionally causing a CHILD physical pain in order to teach or discipline is Ok or healthy. I think it's disgusting. Use your brain. There are so many ways to teach and discipline children without humiliating them or hurting them.

melan... melanniek

Thank you for an article which shows an open understanding of others parenting practices.  Mothers definitely get up in arms over their parenting choices.  I think this is because we seek validation that we are good parents.  We have a very big problem becoming objective and actually thinking things through when it applies to our children.  I have been on both sides of this argument when it applies to my child.  I have spanked when he was younger, and done time outs as he has gotten older.  Why?  Spanking didn't become less effective, time outs simply became MORE effective.  I haven't had to spank my son in a very, very long time.  This is not to say I haven't threatened him with a spanking.  These threats are also very effective.  My son is well loved and has an amazingly loving personality.  He does not act out aggressively.  I think parenting is hard enough without the constant judgment.  Yes I could do things better, so could everyone else.  It is ridiculous to make a blanket statement about parenting practices.  Have faith in yourself as a mother and your children will respect you. 

Rhond... RhondaVeggie

It is not always ridiculous to make blanket statements about parenting. You can't make blanket statements about how to dress kids or what to feed them except in very extreme cases (feeding a kid nothing but gummy bears say) but there are times when we can absolutely say that something is right or wrong. We can say absolutely that feeding a child a good selection of food that is mostly healthy is right. We can say absolutely that sexually abusing a kid is wrong. We can also say that hitting a child is absolutely wrong because it's a black and white issue. There will always be parents who think it's OK just as there will always be parents who think it's fine to feed their kids fast food and junk 24/7 and parents who think it's OK to have sex with their kids but that doesn't mean those things are OK, just that those parents are ignorant.

LKRachel LKRachel

Like you said, I think consistency is key in ANY situation where you're dealing w kids, boundaries, and consequences (whether it's spanking or time out or taking toys away, etc)

And also the only way spanking should be imPlemented is outside of frustration and in a calm manner. I know a mom who does it but the actual spanking is practically nothing, it's the waiting and knowing you're in trouble and have to think about what you did that works. The hauling off and popping type of spanking is less effective (IMO) but whatever works foreach family! I don't think I will spank my daughter but who knows what will work w her, we'll see.

Melis... Melissa042807

My husband and I were both spanked as kids, but not for every single thing. Spanking was just one thing in our parents' line of disciplinary actions and was only applied for a few circumstances. It was A) always with fair warning, B) never done in a rage, and C) always explained and we made up afterward.

Every parent is different and if you don't trust yourself to spank (which is what I got from your explanation), that's your call. You know yourself better than I know you. But I do appreciate that you didn't just automatically condemn every single parent who spanks.

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