Tuesday, April 13, 2010

To Spank or Not To Spank

I remember being spanked.  Not as much as I remember my brother being spanked, though.

My parents only spanked us while we were in diapers.  Which makes me wonder what we were doing at such a young age that was deserving of a spanking?  Everyone has their own ideas about corporal punishment, and I respect those ideas.  Personally, though, I do not spank my son.  I slapped his hand once and I thought I was going to die from the guilt.  I felt horrible.

The reason I do not spank, though, is it does not fit into my parenting philosophy.  Perhaps my philosophy would be different if my kid wasn't so good, but I do not think that is the case.  I believe in letting him make his own choices then learning the consequences of those decisions.  He didn't want to wear pajamas to bed the other night, so he learned that it is not comfortable to sleep in jeans.  He picks out what clothes he wants to wear.  If he doesn't want to get up in the morning, I step outside the door and he realizes that he doesn't want to be left alone.  It works for us.  It cuts down on arguing, fighting, and temper tantrums.  Of course, if safety is involved, I stand firm.  But I think because I stand firm on select issues, not a ton of them, he respects them more.  I pick my battles, as they say.

It works for us.

My sister sent me this article that talks about a study that links spanking to aggressive behavior.
Now researchers at Tulane University provide the strongest evidence yet against the use of spanking: of the nearly 2,500 youngsters in the study, those who were spanked more frequently at age 3 were more likely to be aggressive by age 5. The research supports earlier work on the pitfalls of corporal punishment, including a study by Duke University researchers that revealed that infants who were spanked at 12 months scored lower on cognitive tests at age 3.
 And because I like good experimental design:
The researchers accounted for factors such as acts of neglect by the mother, violence or aggression between the parents, maternal stress and depression, the mother's use of alcohol and drugs, and even whether the mother considered abortion while pregnant with the child.
Each of these factors contributed to children's aggressive behavior at age 5, but they could not explain all of the violent tendencies at that age. Further, the positive connection between spanking and aggression remained strong, even after these factors had been accounted for.
 The article goes onto explain that spanking doesn't allow the child to fully understand why he was spanked, just fear of being spanked again.  And the main reason that I do not spank, they say that spanking makes the child see that aggressive behavior is a solution to problems.  Can we scold a kid who hits another kid if he has been hit his whole life?


  1. as someone who was "spanked" into the hospital as a child, I dont believe in spanking at all...just my view on the subject;)


  2. Good words - great study. But WOW it points out how f-d up some people are...

  3. I read that study. I think whatever works for you and your child(ren) is what works. To each his own and every child is different. My oldest daughter got maybe 3 spankings growing up. My son got his butt tore up on a weekly basis. My youngest daughter you only had to look at and she cried so she NEVER got one spanking. All my children are awesome young adults now.

  4. I agree that spanking as a routine method of discipline is a bad idea.

    Still.... when my daughter was about two and a half, she was obsessed with pulling the cat's tail. The cat was a tiny little thing, just 5 pounds, and declawed (basically defenseless) and way too gentle to think of biting anyone. My daughter thought it was funny to pick up the cat's back end by her tail and then watch the cat frantically trying to run with her front paws but not moving anywhere - sort of like Scooby Doo I guess. The cat would cry and try to run away, but with soft declawed little kitty paws just slipping on the tile floor... The cat took to hiding every time she saw my daughter, but my daughter got meaner and meaner, and would grab her by the tail and pull her out of her hiding spots. I tried everything. Redirecting her to other activities, explaining that pulling the tail hurt the kitty, showing her how to pet the cat nicely, saying a firm "no," imposing time outs, yelling at her, talking about it some more....

    And then one day she grabbed the cat's tail and wouldn't let go for anything. I literally couldn't pry her hands off at all. I'd pry off one hand, but by then she had grabbed the tail with the other hand. She just held on tight and laughed, and the cat was crying and trying to run... and I kept telling her to let go and she just laughed, and I said a firm, "NOW. LET GO." and she laughed some more and I yelled at her to let go and she just laughed.... and I said, "let go NOW or I will smack your bottom" and she just laughed some more.... so I smacked her bottom.

    And she let go.

    And she looked at me in shock.

    And then she worked up into one of those, "it's going to be a really loud cry" faces.

    And then she bawled loudly for ten minutes. Not because it hurt (I didn't hit her that hard), but because she felt betrayed and shocked and probably bewildered.

    And I felt horrible and guilty and like the worst mom on the planet.

    But you know what? She never pulled the cat's tail again.

    I don't think the spanking would have worked if I hadn't done all the explaining and redirecting and everything else first. As you said, she would simply have learned to be afraid of me and/or that hitting is "ok." I think she was just testing my limits, knowing that all I would do is explain again why she shouldn't pull the cat's tail, and the temptation was just too great. And then she found that there was a real and somewhat shocking and slightly painful consequence to ignoring mom's limits so blatantly.

    So, while I'm not advocating spanking as an everyday discipline method, I think "never" is too strong a word. It depends on the child, and the situation.

    They ruled out a lot of factors in that study. But how did they select parents for the study? Did they try to account for the possibility that the parents were spanking those kids more *because* they were more aggressive naturally and perhaps less controllable by other means and thus more likely to provoke a spanking, rather than the other way around? (Or did the parents openly admit that they believed in spanking as an appropriate routine discipline method, regardless of the kid's willingness to be shaped by other discipline methods?). I am always skeptical of correlational studies. But, as I said, I agree with your logic - how can we tell kids "no hitting" if we hit them regularly? It is just too hypocritical, and kids are not stupid. They see what we do, and they do the same, regardless of what we tell them to do.

  5. I was just talking to mom about this. She spanked you and Larry? Did she ever spank Liz and I? I don't remember but, she swore last night that she never spanked any of us... Though I do remember when I was like 14 in Rhode Island, we were in a hotel and I didn't want to get breakfast. I just wanted to sleep for another 30 min till they got back and she got pissed and tried to pull me out of bed, successfully dislocating my wrist (which of course I was blamed for).


Whatcha think?