Don’t Spank! It is Lousy Discipline and It Doesn’t Work (and may well cause damage).

Couples come to me to discuss parenting. A common concern is discipline enforcement:   Father: “My wife keeps telling our children over and over what to do, and often gives up or is slow in enforcing the discipline. I want her to tell the kids something one time and enforce the consequence.  They listen to me cuz they know I’ll spank their behind. Nothing wrong with a little fear.  My preacher says to spank, hit ‘em with the rod like the Bible says.” Mother: “I don’t want you hitting our kids. I think there is a better way. I don’t think that’s what the Bible is all about.  I know I need to be more consistent and I will work on that, but please quit the spanking.”

Enforcing discipline is a parent responsibility.  Hopefully the two mentioned above parents will agree on the expectations they have for their children and what the appropriate discipline is when such expectations are not met. There needs to be a unified and consistent front by the parents.  Kids know how to “divide and conquer”.

Spanking is controversial.  People get real emotional about the practice.  Some say it is cruelty to children.  Spankers say “my daddy spanked me and I turned out okay”.

In a recent study published in the PEDIATRICS JOURNAL the findings concluded that spanking actually makes children more aggressive. Spanking remained a strong predictor of later violent behavior.  The study included 2500 youngsters.  The American Academy of Pediatrics does not endorse spanking under any circumstances. It says that spanking becomes less and less effective with repeated use and makes discipline more difficult as the child outgrows it.

I have witnessed many a confrontation between father and teenage son in my office over the use of physical force.  I’ll never forget the scene where a father told is fifteen year old son, “If you do that again, I’ll beat the s____ out of you”. The son replied, “If you ever touch me again I’ll throw you through the g___ damn window!” An extreme example, yes, but indicative of the hostility that builds up in a child that is hit.

Bottom line, spanking does not work. Oh, yes, it does say you the spanker.  For a very young child it does at first. It instills fear and the young child stops the behavior – while filled with resentment.

You spanker, try smiling and telling your child how much you love him or her as you hit/spank.  Tough to do. I have had many kids say to me that often they would prefer the spanking – “it’s quick and it’s over”- rather than punishments such as being grounded, having a privilege taken away, or not being able to do something that they want to do.

Discipline needs to be appropriate for the age and developmental stage of the child.  The goal is to have the child understand why such and such a behavior is wrong. Riling up negative emotions of fear, hurt and anger do not help with understanding. That is why “time out” is a good discipline practice. It helps the child calm down the felt emotion and begin to understand why the behavior was inappropriate.

I am aware that this research and my explanation will make a limited impact on you devoted spankers, but I wanted to give you the rationale for not doing it and offering alternatives. Pragmatically, spanking just does not work except for the moment for young kids who are fearful.  In time its effect wears off and fear is replaced by anger. And please, don’t try to paint the picture that I believe in coddling kids. On the contrary.

I believe in challenging kids to be the best they can be with high standards and expectations, with both positive and negative consequences depending on their performance. The message to our kids when they were growing up was that we expected them to be high quality people, excellent students, and be successful in the future personally and professionally. They have exceeded our high expectations. The above type disciplines served well in helping them succeed while maintaining a very loving bond with us their parents.

May you be as fortunate!

“The unexamined life is not worth living”     Socrates

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