To spank or not to spank? Study says early spankings make for aggressive toddlers

20 Comments

  1. “The average number of spankings for 1-year-olds in this study was 2.6 per week.”

    This just makes me so sad. Like you said, I’ve had the urge when angry to spank my 3-year old (as wrong as it is – and thankfully I’ve been able to keep from losing that last bit of self-control)… but a 1 year old?! That’s still such a baby. And almost 3 times a WEEK? I feel so sad for these babies, and the parents that feel this is what they “should” do.

  2. I know one family where spanking was the ONE AND ONLY discipline tactic/punishment. I distinctly remember dad spanking baby’s hand because she was trying to grab the spoon when he was feeding her. *shudder*
    The kicker is that they were SURPRISED when their son got in trouble at school because his only strategy for solving problems on the playground was to hit other kids. *sigh*

  3. I don’t think a young child is able to distinguish that “spanking” is trying to teach him or her a lesson, even if it’s done with love on the part of the parent. I think the message corporal punishment sends, rather, that if you’re bigger than someone, you can hit them to get them to do what you want.

    Alfie Kohn had an interesting article in the NYT this past week on how parents can use discipline as a method of control and not as a way to teach right from wrong. It’s worth a read: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/15/health/15mind.html?_r=1&ref=health

    Another website that has a lot of concrete alternatives to punishment is this one: http://www.empathic-parenting.com/index_articles.htm

    I know that compassionate parenting doesn’t come easily to many people (myself included). For me, learning about developmentally appropriate behavior (i.e., it’s our toddler’s job to test us) and to keep in mind that what may seem like obstinate, strong-willed behavior in children may actually be desirable traits in independently thinking grown ups.

    Most of all, I think it’s important for parents to be able to share their struggles and shortcomings with others without fear of judgment if we are to successfully overcome our compulsion to spank or to discipline punitively. I can’t say enough how much more willing I am to be gentle with my daughter after I’ve had the opportunity to share freely with my mama friends and to hear from them that they go through the same thing.

  4. Sarah Ji,
    As a mother who was spanked and who grew up thinking that spanking was the way to go I can understand how hard it is to break the cycle. It was helpful for me to realize that we all are humans and we all make mistakes, even as parents. Hearing other moms who were trying hard was helpful to me because I felt less alone in my struggles.

    My mother never apologized to us even when she made mistakes and I have found that apologizing to yourself and your children when you make a mistake is healing for both parties.

    I was raised to think that apologizing made children respect their parents less but I believe it is the opposite.


  5. I have two kids ages 13 and 9 both girls, all these years I never really had to spank my kids but I had to slap the oldest just once but that was because she would not stop biting me, needless to say that officially stopped the biting she was very young and I tried EVERYTHING just could not find anything that would work, I couldn’t be around her without her biting me so hard she was bruising my skin, but that is the only time I ever had to go to extremes, she is a beautiful young lady and very well mannered, couldn’t ask for a better kid

  6. I’m the Mom to three kiddos 13,11,6. I have not and will not spank. I have never seen a child deserve a smack for anything. I screw up and make mistakes – we all do. Yet if anyone smacked me for it I could press charges. Our children are only human, they are going to mess things up, say things we don’t like, and not always be nice to one another. But, well that’s life. I try to deal with situations on a case by case basis. Generally speaking taking away prized items and rights almost always fits the bill around here. When they were younger I would remove them from the situation and try to explain to them why I had done what I had done. I look at a lot of their behaviors and wonder why they did what they did and then work with the child to resolve the situation. Natural consequences have also worked well for us. If you make the mess you must clean it up. If you bite your brother be prepared for him to bite you back twice as hard, because it could happen. I’m lucky my kids are awesome, they get complemented often and I’ve had teachers request my kids for their classes so I think they are turning out OK.
    I’m no parenting expert, but I was in an extremely abusive relationship while in college, and well nobody deserves to fear being hit. Especially someone who can’t conceive why they are being hit. My husband was spanked and slapped often as a child and to this day can’t stand anyone touching his face without warning him first. Extreme yes, but very real.

  7. I was raised with spanking, and I’ll be the first to admit it is damn hard to break that cycle. I have to walk away a lot. A LOT. But it is worth it to me. Hitting is not not teaching.

  8. Wow, what an amazingly thorough post. I’m not sure what I could really add. Spanking is so far from my radar… it just doesn’t suit my husband or my personalities or parenting style at all. We haven’t had to face discipline issues yet, though. I try not to judge others because we all have our own parenting challenges, but my kneejerk reaction when I hear about someone spanking their kids (which I still do hear often) is to wince. And bare bottom spanking? Just seems creepy to me. Sorry, just my two cents.

  9. My second child is 1 year old right now. And I can say yes, they are totally, totally frustrating. But I’ve never spanked him, or my 4 1/2 year old either. I believe that a lot of the things we regard as ‘discipline’ issues are really age appropriate behaviours that kids will outgrow on their own, whether we spank, use time-outs or sticker charts, or not. At least that’s been my experience. Young children lack impulse control and verbal skills, and so it seems like they misbehave a lot when they’re really just exploring and learning in the best way they know how.

    The idea of spanking a 1 year old, who is really just a baby, makes me sad.

  10. i think the most important issue or concern for parents who spank for spankings sake is the limited knowledge most people have about how their children develop.

    i am not one of the lucky ones who can have children of my own though my heart aches for one. i have however made children and their development a walking talking part of me. too many of my friends have babies physiologically speaking with little thought or concern into understanding how we grow. when issues arise and i can offer up my knowledge, i am ignored because i do not have any children of my own only to have them later tell me that their doctors told them the same thing i did.

    if only people would think to take a child development class before they have their children, our children can grow to their full potential.

    (eegads this sounds all hoity toity but i guess what i mean is, that there are developmental stages we all go through and there is absolutely never a reason to spank a child under 3. sometimes, a swat is what needs to happen at the time…hot stove! hot stove! but when a child does not have the language to tell you what is bothering them then it is up to you to figure it out.)

    babble babble…

  11. The few times I’ve spanked Lauren, she’s laughed at me. When I threaten consequences, she one-ups me: no Nintendo DS for a week? She’ll say throw it in the trash. Sent to her room for an hour? She won’t come out. Any kind of punishment is ineffective for her, seemingly. Lucky for me she’s rarely bad.

  12. As a non-parent, I can say that I have on more than one occasion thought when seeing kids act up “Someone nneds to tann his/her hide”. Then I start thinking back to the times I got the belt for no good reason. Yes I was one of those kids who got spanked and turned out OK. OK, if your don’t count it made me question authority, not trust people, and in general have a lot of bouts of PTSS- still things I deal with today. Of course- here it comes- my parents knew no better”

  13. I love the website Gentle Christian Mothers. It’s taught me so much about not just non spanking, but being non-punitive. It’s the whole mind set that needs to change. In my opinion, substituting spanking with time outs etc might save your child some pain, but won’t necessarily make for a whole lot of improvement. I’ve learned so much about modeling grace and forgiveness and positive parenting to our kids. I still have to break my preconceptions anew every day. But it’s good.

    I’ve never spanked my kids. But I have been tempted. And then I realize it would be damaging and wouldn’t help anything. And the thought of watching their little faces turn to fear filled faces, and the look of rejection and insecurity. They can’t understand why their mom who is supposed to be their solid foundation, would make them feel threatened and sore and it is terrifying to them. It breaks my heart to think about.

    We need to start seeing a “misbehaving” child and instead of assuming he needs more discipline, we need to start to realize he needs more love. Or more security. Or some need fulfilled. That’s what “bad behavior” stems from – an unmet need. When we use harsh punitive measures to control the behavior we teach the child his needs are not important and he needs to shut up about them and ignore them or else there will be ill consequences. No wonder we end up with a society full of messed up adults, if our need have not been met as children

  14. My favourite is a parent who spanks their child for hitting another child. Slightly hypocritical? Spanking your child just makes them think it’s OK for a bigger person to take aggression on a littler person.

    I’m wondering how the 3.5 your old child who made the colossal mess of the living room was even able to create such a mess. Where was the mom when it was happening? Did she not notice the child took chocolate syrup out of the fridge? I’m not sure that a 3.5 year old should be left to their own devices for such a period of time, and that perhaps if they were being supervised, it wouldn’t have happened.

  15. Is there a reason you chose to include “low income” in your introductory statement. Is that relevant to any other point? Just curious if you were trying to say something about instances of excessive spanking being related to class…. Thanks.

  16. Author

    I included it because it seemed like a relevant part of information about the study since they only included “low income” families. I’m not suggesting that excessive spanking is related to class. Unfortunately, I think it happens in low, middle and high income families.


  17. Thanks so much for discussing spanking. I was about to comment on how I think punishment is important to teach children about consequences, but in writing my response I started thinking about how I would handle a similar situation with an adult. The fact of the matter is children, in their own way, can comprehend consequences if they are explained thoroughly in terms they understand. You might tell an adult how their poor behavior choices affected your or someone else in a negative way, and in the same manner, you can explain to your child how something they did has hurt someone else or created a bigger problem.
    I have consistently put my 3 year old daughter(she has only been mischievous since turning two) on time out (to no avail)and have recently considered calmly spanking her once to enforce boundaries, but this discussion has encouraged me to think differently about my particular situation. We want to encourage respect from our daughter and believe that she deserves that same respect, but when considering discipline, I guess we never thought of it as a lack of respect. If my husband spanked me for throwing water out of the bathtub, I would see it as a lack of respect on both parts; and of course, one only encouraging the other. It definitely proves how cyclical the spanking and poor behavior can be. Thank you,crunchydomesticgoddess!

  18. Child buttock-battering vs. DISCIPLINE:

    Child buttock-battering for the purpose of gaining compliance is nothing more than an inherited bad habit.

    Its a good idea for people to take a look at what they are doing, and learn how to DISCIPLINE instead of hit.

    I think the reason why television shows like “Supernanny” and “Dr. Phil” are so popular is because that is precisely what many (not all) people are trying to do.

    There are several reasons why child bottom-slapping isn’t a good idea. Here are some good, quick reads recommended by professionals:

    Plain Talk About Spanking
    by Jordan Riak,

    The Sexual Dangers of Spanking Children
    by Tom Johnson,

    NO VITAL ORGANS THERE, So They Say
    by Lesli Taylor M.D. and Adah Maurer Ph.D.

    Most compelling of all reasons to abandon this worst of all bad habits is the fact that buttock-battering can be unintentional sexual abuse for some children. There is an abundance of educational resources, testimony, documentation, etc available on the subject that can easily be found by doing a little research with the recommended reads-visit http://www.nospank.net.

    Just a handful of those helping to raise awareness of why child bottom-slapping isn’t a good idea:

    American Academy of Pediatrics,
    American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry,
    Center For Effective Discipline,
    PsycHealth Ltd Behavioral Health Professionals,
    Churches’ Network For Non-Violence,
    Nobel Peace Prize recipient Archbishop Desmond Tutu,
    Parenting In Jesus’ Footsteps,
    Global Initiative To End All Corporal Punishment of Children,
    United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

    In 26 countries, child corporal punishment is prohibited by law (with more in process). In fact, the US was the only UN member that did not ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

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