To Spank or Not to Spank?
By Elizabeth Pantley
In my house, my father had a belt
hanging on a hook in the kitchen. It was a visible reminder to
be good or to be put over his knee. We were all afraid of that
One day, my father couldn’t
find the belt. Eventually it was found in the trash can —
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
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knee, he noticed that her little rear end had been replaced by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
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 remains.
A legacy of punishment
Our parents punished us the same way in which they were punished.
And their parents punished them the same way that they themselves
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
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 or 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
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 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.
What if your child is in
Even with these points in mind, I’ve read several articles
that address 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 chair lift?
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, 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 into 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 mother?
Positive, respectful, consistent
discipline is the real key to raising well-behaved children.
© Elizabeth Pantley.
Excerpted with permission from
Kid Cooperation: How to Stop Yelling, Nagging and Pleading
and Get Kids to Cooperate by Elizabeth Pantley.
Elizabeth Pantley is the author of numerous parenting books, including
the widely cited The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to
Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night. Buy her books at
She is a regular radio show
guest and is quoted frequently on the web and in national family
and women’s publications. Elizabeth lives in Washington
state with her husband, their four children and her mother. Visit
her at www.pantley.com/elizabeth.