To Spank or Not to Spank


At The Mother Company, the answer to the question, to spank or not to spank is a clear, “not to spank.”

However, TMC’s audience is not totally in-line with the company’s point-of-view. In fact, TMC’s very own poll shows that (at the time this blog was written) while 65% of voters feel spanking is “never okay,” about 35% of voters support spanking under certain circumstances.

The bottom line is many parents spank their kids, and we got curious about why spanking is perceived to be an effective form of discipline.

Robert Larzelere, a professor of parenting and methodology research at Oklahoma State University, advocates a specific kind of spanking, delivered after a certain sequence of non-corporal discipline is used.

Noel Janis-Norton is a learning and behavior specialist with more than 40 years experience helping parents and teachers. She provides her take on the ineffectiveness of spanking, and one non-corporal disciplinary tactic to use in order to get kids to cooperate. — TMC

Robert Larzelere

If misbehavior is occurring, it’s important for parents to communicate, reason and listen first — try to understand where they child is coming from. This is key for children to learn and emulate. Also, explicit expression of nurturance when they’re being good really helps kids have more emotional regulation. If the child is hungry or tired, those needs should be immediately met. If empathy and conversation don’t work to curb the misbehavior, then taking away a privilege or giving a time-out, should be enacted. If the child demonstrates persistent defiance in the face of non-corporal discipline, then research clearly shows a two swat spanking on the rear end has been shown to be effective for 2- to 6-year-olds. Most children quickly learn to cooperate with time-outs or a privilege removal if noncompliance consistently leads to a two-swat spanking. Eventually, resorting to spanking then becomes unnecessary.

If a parent sees fit to spank, in order to have a successful outcome, a child should never be spanked without warning, or when the parent is out-of-control angry. So, parents should clearly give one warning each time, that if the misbehavior continues, the child will go to a time-out. A parent can count to three – the child will typically fall into line after the number “two” is reached, if three is consistently followed with a time-out. If the child does not stay on the time-out chair for the required time (say, one minute for each year of age), then a single warning should be used before a two-swat spank to enforce cooperation with the time -out. If the child still does not cooperate after a warning, the parent should regulate his/her emotions, so that s/he administers time-outs and spanking in a calm state. Parents should never escalate the spanking physically or verbally. If this procedure doesn’t work after using it consistently for a few times (say, 6 or 7 times), then try another way to enforce time-out, such as removing a privilege. Professional help from a clinical child psychologist may be necessary if a child persists in their defiance.

Once a spanking is complete, parents should have a talk with their child making it clear their actions to spank were motivated out of love and concern. A parent could say, “I want you to know I love you. I spanked you because I need you to cooperate with me. I don’t want to do this again. I’d like to hug you if you want.”

Noel Janis-Norton

Without getting into a moral argument, here are a few reasons why spanking is an ineffective disciplinary strategy. It can generate a distrust or even fear of parents, and we don’t want our children to behave out of fear. We want our children to behave because they’ve internalized the right thing to do.

We also know that kids imitate their parents, so spanking sets the example that it’s okay to hit as a solution to problems and to get what you want. If the spanking is occasional, which is usually the case, then by definition it’s an ineffective method of discipline because it’s not a consistent consequence. Our kids need to be able to predict how we’ll react – it helps them feel secure when they know the limits.

If you have kids that are more sensitive, they might remember their spanking/s for years. Most parents would rather not spank their kids. The good news is that spanking is completely unnecessary when you know more effective strategies.

An “action replay” is the most useful consequence I know of to improve future behavior, which is actually the purpose of a consequence. It’s a far more effective strategy than an angry scolding, taking away a privilege or giving a spanking. It always ends all discipline on a positive note, and it wipes the slate clean because the incident ends with your child behaving appropriately.

Here’s how it goes: Once your child is calm, you reenact the situation that caused him/her to misbehave. Then, instead of opting to react in the way that got him in trouble, he gets to choose a different way to behave – a positive way that results in a better outcome. This way, what gets stored in his long-term memory is the last thing that happened: He did the right thing, and you were pleased with him.

Robert Larzelere is a professor of parenting and methodology research, at Oklahoma State University. His priority is to emphasize improving research methodology and research on parental discipline. He authored the book, Authoritative Parenting.

Noel Janis Norton, founder and director of The Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting Centre in London, is a learning and behavior specialist with more than 40 years experience helping parents and teachers on both sides of the Atlantic. She authored the book, Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting.

Please share your thoughts/anecdotes/musings about this topic below in the comments section.  We love hearing from you!

The Mother Company aims to support parents and their children, providing thought-provoking web content and products based in social and emotional learning for children ages 3-6. Check out the first episode of our children’s series, “Ruby’s Studio: The Feeling Show,” along with our beautiful children’s booksmusichandmade dolls, and more. We want to be a truly helpful parenting tool… For you!

Posted in: Behavioral Issues, Discipline, Expert Advice

Comments (7)

  1. not spank

    Not spank, in reality in reverse no one likes it

  2. Mike

    Dear Abbie, dear All,
    You should realize that most “science” about spanking is skewed at the moment. If you don’t believe – try to publish the best paper in any psychological or medical magazine, if your analysis proved that spanking is “good” and gives certain benefits… You will end up like one of the famous american professor – she was hailed to be a monster, because she showed the results that were “politically incorrect” for most “loyal” scholar id…ts.

    From the methodological point of view more than 95% of current “studies” is of such a poor quality, that one would have to be crazy to listen to such a “science”.
    On the other hand, scientific research that was of good enough quality (for example: there were control groups, the groups were properly defined, the multifactorial analysis was performed, etc.) did not prove that spanking is ineffective or bad for children.

  3. Jacquelyn

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  4. Janet

    I am a mother of five and two of my children are young adult men. Three of my children are still at home. I believe that spankings are not bad if used only when needed and with much wisdom. For example, my children that are still at home do not receive spankings because their behavior mimics the peaceful environment of my home, and whenever I have a problem with their behavior, I quickly take away their privileges and the problem is solved. However, I did occasionally spank my two oldest when they got out of hand because I spoiled them early on and occasionally, I needed to reestablish boundaries. But I quickly learned that taking away privileges was just as effective.

  5. Leigh

    “parents should have a talk with their child making it clear their actions to spank were motivated out of love and concern.”

    The “I hit you because I love you” line sounds like you are setting your child up for abusive relationships. How many abusive husbands (and wives) have used that line to excuse their behavior?

  6. Abbie

    I have to weigh in here – If you have to spank a child because they aren’t staying in a time out – then maybe you need to re-think the effectiveness of disciplining with “time-outs.” Clearly they both aren’t working. If you feel like you have to spank a child at all – you should know what the facts are about spanking and the many alternatives you aren’t trying.

    There are MANY ways to get children to cooperate and most of those ways start long before a problem even occurs. Catch your child being good to reinforce the behavior you appreciate. Fill their “love bank” with hugs and “I love yous” to establish a bond and trust (trust comes from love, not from fear).

    One smack from a parent smashes all that love and trust. It pits you against them and makes them feel terrible about themselves and you. Instead, try to explain what your expectations are so your children know how you want them to behave. Children cooperate all day long without us even acknowledging it. They follow many directions we give them. Acknowledge that – not all day, but from time to time. “I noticed how cooperative you were in the restaurant. I know it is hard for you to sit still for so long but you did it. You did it!” Or “you were so mad you wanted to hit your sister but you didn’t. You controlled yourself!” (Notice you’re not saying “good job” or “you’re great” you’re simply stating a fact and that you were paying attention to when they behaved well.)

    When a child does misbehave, look to possible reasons. Hungry? Tired? Needing attention? If they are testing boundaries, make sure boundaries are established. “We don’t run across the street/hit your brother/throw your glass on the floor – that’s not safe!” Then redirect their behavior to “hey wanna push the crosswalk button” or “can you crunch your carrots the loudest?” If they still throw their glass on the floor take it away. Have them help clean it up (if possible).

    Each situation warrants consistent behavior by the parents in terms of reinforcing boundaries, but none of it warrants a spanking. No one benefits when a child is hit.

    • Dani

      Sounds quite logical to me. It seems sometimes it is forgotten that we are raising little people. I will never understand why it is illegal in so many countries to hit another adult and yet some people advocate hitting a child, someone who is so much smaller and unable to defend themselves.