If Spanking Does Not Work in the Long-Term, Why Start Spanking at All?

Kieran 1Hypothetically speaking, let’s pretend there is a parenting practice with the following attributes:

  • while it usually results in immediate compliance, it is generally ineffective in modifying longer-term behavior (it is even ineffective from hour to hour or day to day);
  • it causes strain on the parent/child relationship; and
  • it can only be used for a few years of the child’s life, outside of those few years it is totally ineffective and/or inappropriate.

What, exactly, is attractive about that? Yes, there is that immediate compliance, but if the parenting practice doesn’t even result in changed behavior an hour later, why waste the effort?

Why not try something that actually works?

Part of the post “Undermining General Beliefs About Corporal Punishment” has stuck with me since I read it during the Carnival of Gentle Discipline. In the post, the author discussed the arbitrary lines drawn between “spanking” and “abuse,” as well as the rationales given for corporal punishment.

The part I keep coming back to is the general consensus that there is an age range in which it is “appropriate” to spank. According to the “experts” (and the spanking parents who discuss these things online), you should not spank babies younger than about 15-18 months, and you should not spank children past the age of 7 years. (1)

If you know that the “solution” of spanking is only a short-term “fix,” why do it at all? If spanking is one of your parenting tools, you will eventually have to toss it out of your toolbox. What will you do after it is no longer appropriate to threaten your child physically?

How will you relate to your kids when the threat of spanking no longer hangs over their heads?

Even if we ignore the many negative long-term effects of spanking, it simply makes no sense to rely on a method of discipline that will only work for a few short years. “Lasting authority cannot be based on fear[,]” so where will your authority lie after your children no longer fear your hand or your belt? (2)

Instead of creating a parent/child relationship based on fear and mistrust – as spanking often does – it is healthier and more effective in the long run to create a relationship based on trust and respect. Gentle discipline and playful parenting techniques are healthy and effective tools that work from toddlerhood through the teenage years.

What’s more, those few years that parents are “allowed” to spank are also the years that our children are forming lasting mental impressions of us.

Would you rather your child form an impression of trust, or of fear?


(1) I choose not to link to any of these “experts” or discussion boards because I do not want to contribute to their traffic/Pagerank. If you’re interested, I’m sure you can find several sites to this effect on Google.
(2) Ask Dr. Sears, “10 Reasons Not to Hit Your Child

Author: Dionna

Dionna writes at Code Name: Mama, where she shares information, resources, and her thoughts on natural parenting and life with a toddler/preschooler.

11 thoughts on “If Spanking Does Not Work in the Long-Term, Why Start Spanking at All?”

  1. Amen! The idea that there is an age at which hitting is ok and then we are supposed to miraculously become adults that would never hit is crazy. It makes my heart ache for all those 3 year olds that are JUST LEARNING to deal with their strong emotions getting slapped by their most trusted adults for not managing very well.

    The good news is I’ve had a couple people tell me, post Carnival of Gentle Discipline, that they just didn’t know another way and that now they do they won’t spank! It was that easy – they just needed another way. Thanks for spreading the word!

  2. I didn’t understand the urge to spank before I had kids. I didn’t know how angry a kid could make me, or how I could have the urge to hit overwhelm me in a grocery store parking lot. I suspect that this is often what happens – people hit not because they’ve made a considered choice, but because they are overwhelmed and lash out impulsively.

    I have never hit my children. I have successfully mastered the urge when it’s come up, but it’s been real all the same. Because of that, I think the answer ultimately lies in changing the way our culture relates to children. Parents shouldn’t be left to feel so alone and overwhelmed and without options. But as long as our culture still has the ‘someone needs to smack that child’ or ‘shut that kid up!’ mentality, I don’t see that changing.

  3. I am confident that as more of us come around to the idea of gentle discipline, the amount of people spanking will decrease dramatically. I know that just by being a strong advocate of gentle discipline and being vehemently opposed to spanking I will be impacting lots of people. My son is already 10 months old I find myself frequently in conversations with people about my opinions on discipline. My little family is definitely rocking the boat as spanking is the norm in our extended families. I think as attachment parents we have to keep our cool and just be straightforward and logic/facts based when discussing these issues. Hopefully people will at least think twice about hitting their children, and maybe some of the people we come in contact with will decide not to spank, and it will be a chain reaction.

  4. Yeah… good question!! :-S

    Now that I have kids of my own and have to actually address the concept of “discipline” in relation to how I was raised and how we will raise our kids, I’ve been wandering around picking the brains of other moms who seem to have a handle on what they’re doing with their kids. Most telling answer I got was: “If you’ve done it properly, you should be able to stop spanking by about the age of 5.” WTH??

    When I asked her to elaborate, she said something along the lines of “because by 5 they’re able to be reasoned with.” And I thought WHAT????

    No really, you’re hitting a child *because* they’re too young to be reasoned with. Doesn’t that imply that the child will be UNable to reason through why this person who says they love them and is supposed to be protecting them is INTENTIONALLY causing them physical pain? How’s a kid who’s “too young to be reasoned with” supposed to reason through *that* one?? It’s madness…

  5. Amazingly, the Supreme Court of Canada recently attempted to define when it is appropriate to spank ones child. It specifies no hitting younger than 2 and not older than early teens because otherwise it will create “anti-social behaviour”. So ironic, isn’t it, that at 14 a child will develop anti-social behavior from being hit, but not at 12…The list goes on to create other parameters and as long as you meet the, hit away!

  6. I have read many persuasive arguments against spanking, especially in the Carnival if Gentle Discipline, but your argument here is weak. Most parenting strategies, disciplinary, rewards, comforting, and otherwise, don’t work forever.(I.e. when Baby is 10 and gets scared or hurt, nursing won’t be comforting to him anymore) Instead parents adjust their parenting to fit their child’s needs and understanding as they grow. (I might hug him if he’ll still let me, and talk to him logically about his fear, or bake him treats to distract him from his pain!) I think you will have much more luck persuading people not to spank if you stick with the more effective arguments and throw this one out of your repetoire.

  7. Amber – I understand the urge to spank. Even as much as I’m against it, I’ve still felt that urge and had to stifle it. It is definitely a matter of will for me, plus remembering that Kieran usually isn’t *trying* to push my buttons.

    MamanADroit – I agree that there are many great arguments not to spank. Perhaps this one isn’t all that persuasive to you, but it might speak to someone. We all have different reasons behind our parenting decisions – the fact that my reasons differ from yours does not make either of our decisions less valid, it just means we come to the table with different experiences.
    Maybe I could explain the position better if I came at it from another angle – I believe that parents can use logic and gentle reasoning with children from the beginning. Basically, I want to start on the discipline path that I want to remain on; namely, I want to use love and respect, not fear or coercion, throughout my child’s life.
    If you want to compare spanking to nursing, compare it more globally – breastfeeding is a nurturing tool, you nurse a child not only to feed him, but to love and comfort him. You can continue to use love and comfort to nurture your child throughout his life – not with your breast, but with gentle hugs, quality time, etc.
    Spanking is a discipline tool – why use a harsh, punitive discipline tool when it won’t always work? There are gentle discipline methods parents can employ to help their child learn socially appropriate behavior that will work throughout their life. Perhaps you will explain something to a toddler in a much different way than you will relate to a 7 year old, but you can use gentle methods of logic and reason with both.
    Hopefully that made more sense.

  8. Thanks for clearing that up Dionna. From this post, it wasn’t obvious (to me at least) that you were arguing against all “harsh, punitive disciplinary measures” as ineffective in the long-term rather than just spanking. I would live to hear more about your opinions on disciplining older children at some point-I’m curious what you think of time-outs/grounding, removing privileges like car keys or cell-phone, etc. I guess I’m not clear still what you’d put in the “harsh” category and what you’d deem reasonable. Since Hubby and I both came from families that spanked and were fairly strict, we are still trying to decide how we want to do things, and obviously hearing different opinions helps us with that!

  9. I agree with Amber – I think that in many cases, spanking as a discipline tool isn’t used out of conscious choice but rather becomes the response of last resort when nothing else seems to be working and the parent has run out of time/patience/energy/etc. Moving away from spanking as a culture means supporting families more, teaching better discipline tools more effectively and learning better self-control. As with breastfeeding, the more gentle discipline becomes the norm the easier it will be for everyone to learn how to do it.

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