To spank,
June 26, 2002 4:39 AM   Subscribe

To spank, or not to spank? Some parents - including Presidents and Princesses - seem to believe it's one's duty to administer corporal punishment of some sort, whereas others clearly wouldn't even as a last resort. Some, apparently, would leave it to the Webmaster to decide how many times to raise the paddle! If westerners are confused about child disciplinary methods, what about their kids? Or is consistency of approach more important than which side of the philosophical divide you stand on? More inside>>>
posted by dash_slot- (47 comments total)
A whole lot of the research in this area has been conducted in the States, a lot of which demonstrates not just a wide variety of belief, but also the tensions within modern parenting. It seems that slightly more than half of the [US] general population (55%) think it is sometimes necessary to discipline a child with a good, hard spanking.... yet eight in 10 (79%) say that the best way to discipline a child is with non-physical means.

Since I was a volunteer many years ago, and as a parent, professional carer and one time parenting education instructor, I have followed the expert guidance of US psychologist Dr. Carolyn Webster-Stratton, as promoted in the UK by Oxford's Family Nurturing Network. What is parenting like in your neck of the woods? Where do you stand on the issues, and where do you [if you have parental duties] get your parenting ideas from?

Don't hold back if you can't/won't/don't have the little blighters - we've all been parented... how was it for you?

posted by dash_slot- at 4:40 AM on June 26, 2002

"Corporal punishment, when used lovingly and properly, is beneficial to a child because it is in harmony with nature itself. [---] When he touches a hot stove, he quickly learns that heat must be respected."

that first link is one of the most bizarre things i have read in a long time. now, i have never been spanked, so i wouldn't know if a child who "knows that love abounds at home [would] not resent a well-deserved spanking", but i think that comparing the behaviour of the parent to the "behaviour" of a hot stove is to oversimplify family dynamics. corporal punishment is not a mechanic, causal and certainly not a natural occurrence - it's a power trip in an environment of love and respect (or the lack thereof), personalities, hierarchy and what have you. and not acceptable in any form.

i'm not sure of definition of corporal punishment. is it "a good, hard spanking" only or does it include any form of physical punishment like slaps or a tug of the hair?

and no, i don't have children.
posted by hannala at 5:44 AM on June 26, 2002 [1 favorite]

I can understand the need for something as shocking as this kind of punishment to penetrate the child's thinking and behaviour, but as a proud and loving father of a two-year old, I don't support it. As my boy gets older, I may change my mind, but his mother and I are in agreement on this subject. Whether you spank or not is a personal choice, and I would never snark on another parent for it, unless they brought out a belt or a piece of wood--introducing a "tool", or "weapon", as I like to call them, constitutes abuse.

As a child I got the odd spanking. Most often, though, I had to stand in the corner for a while. This was usually effective enough to calm me down. If the offense was serious enough I was sent to my room for an indeterminate amount of time.

As a parent, I'll probably send him to his room, stand in a corner or have a time-out. No corporal punishment in my home.

Good topic, dash_slot. There's almost too much to comment on!

On preview, no hair tugging, no slaps, even certain kinds of yelling.I would look at this as a mild form of abuse. Slapping and hair tugging seem to me to be more reactive than punitive. IMO
posted by ashbury at 5:52 AM on June 26, 2002

I am not a parent. I am an uncle and a godfather though. So, I get to be the cool guy that can hang out with the nephews and listen to what bugs them and hopefully try to help them understand where their parents are coming from.
Have they(nephews) been spanked? Very few times, and not by me. They are now 8 and 10, so they really can be told what it is they are doing wrong and why it is wrong.

The do not spank link I think focus's more on a parent who spanks a child do to a loss of control over their own emotions. That is wrong. When you lose control and resort to spanking a child, you are not disciplining that child, you are beating him/her to relieve your own stress and you are in need of some anger management.

Ultimately, I don't see the need for spanking. You can talk to kids and they can learn from what you say. If they maybe need a cooling down period(or maybe you do) then send them to their room(void of Nintendo). After a while they cool off(and you do to) and then you can speak to them and try an impart some lesson to be learned.

All this from an uncle. Life as an uncle has got to be far easier than life as a dad ;-)
posted by a3matrix at 6:08 AM on June 26, 2002

That site should be labelled as "not work safe".

I got an erection just looking its logo...

Are they really serious? scary, scary
posted by samelborp at 6:11 AM on June 26, 2002

I've never spanked my ten-year old, but neither do I think it wrong if it's done for discipline, not out of anger.

In an urban high school where I once worked, I often brought this up as a sure-fire discussion topic. Ninety percent of the kids, including the troublemakers and gangbangers, thought that without spanking (or worse!), a child would grow up wild.

However, there were always two or three students who had never been spanked, and these were almost always the best-behaved children in the class.

Not a scientific survey, of course...class and culture come into play in these sorts of things...but it supports my belief in the civilizing nature of reason and language and non-violence.
posted by kozad at 6:11 AM on June 26, 2002

Spanking is also the subject of one of CNN's lead articles this morning.

I was spanked as a child - as I recall, it was almost always done calmly and with a very clear explanation of why I was getting a spanking. I think it would be incredibly difficult to differentiate that form of spanking with the parent who reacts in anger, striking his or her child in the moment. I'd guess the devil is in the details, and I'd be curious to read the methods section of that APA article. Were all 88 of the studies referenced in the article able to make fine-grained distinctions about the circumstances under which corporal punishment was used? And on what grounds do they suggest that spanking is a causal factor of long-term negative outcomes, rather than just a correlate?

I'm not sure I could bring myself to hit my child, if I were a parent. I believe in firm discipline - having seen too many examples of children totally at sea because of lax and inconsistent discipline. But I don't think corporal punishment is a necessary part of it. We'll see what I think when I'm actually a parent and the whole issue becomes a bit less theoretical.
posted by Chanther at 6:13 AM on June 26, 2002

I have personally always thought to spank or not to spank is subjective based on the child. I was spanked as a child. Not constantly, just when I wouldn't listen to authority or I wasn't responding to time-outs, which never really worked with me (as my mother will tell you). Of course, I was a parent's nightmare. Always into trouble, time-outs were just a chance to rest or take a nap if mom or dad weren't paying attention.

By contrast, my fiance' was never spanked. Her parents don't believe in it. It worked for her because she was everything I wasn't as a child (well behaved, obedient, respectful of authority). Her sister, however, is a spoiled brat (even now at age 20). In my opinion, this is directly related to her sister being more like me in an environment where discipline was nothing more than a trip to the corner or to your room.

I think you have to go with what works. If you can effectively discipline a child without corporal punishment, then obviously there's no need for it and quite frankly I'd prefer not to have to use it on my children (of which I have none yet). I think that if you know your children well enough than you will know what will and won't work. I don't really see how I could take a hard line for it or against it.
posted by srw12 at 6:35 AM on June 26, 2002

I think srw12 hit the nail right on the head. It "totally" depends on the child. I've know people that used time out and their kid is the most horrible monster you will ever want to have, but then again I know people that spank the hell out of their kid because they are just as horrible and that doesn't even work. You can't make this discussion so general because no 2 kids are exactly alike.
posted by the_0ne at 6:45 AM on June 26, 2002

My parents never had to spank my sister, but I was such a hellraiser that I needed a spanking now and then (yes, sometimes with a wooden spoon) to get my attention. On the flip side, I was absolutely unafraid of my elementary school teachers (not to mention bored to death at school). because I knew they couldn't possibly do anything to me. Detention was never a very intimidating punishment.

Some parents who refuse to use corporal punishment, however, are simply afraid or unwilling to discipline their children. They just want to be friends with their kid, so sending them to their room (with TV/Computer/Toys inside) is the best "punishment" for all involved.
posted by insomnyuk at 6:50 AM on June 26, 2002

My son has the combination of my temper and my wife's temper, making for a very volatile child sometimes. Time out is a waste on him and believe me, we've tried it. I always heard that saying "This will hurt me more than it hurts you." and thought it was a joke as a kid, but my parents were right, I hate having to spank my son. It's hardly a pat on the butt, but enough that he cries and I feel horrible, but he does listen after that "usually". I don't think anybody wants to spank their kid, but some kids just don't respond to verbal threats and especially time out.
posted by the_0ne at 6:52 AM on June 26, 2002

As an alternative to spanking, some kind of electric shock device could be hooked up to children soon after infancy, so that when they misbehaved, you could give them a jolt of greater or lesser severity to establish an avoidance response. The fact this device was controlled by the parent would be hidden from the child, so that no negative feelings toward the parent would accrue as a consequence. When the child was old enough, all would be explained. By that time, the avoidance of undesirable behaviors would have been well established, and the child would be on his or her way to becoming a model citizen.
posted by Faze at 7:05 AM on June 26, 2002

Sounds like a kick-ass idea Faze, you marketing these little doo-dads?
posted by the_0ne at 7:13 AM on June 26, 2002

I dunno. The public may have too many negative associations with electrical shocks to make this a marketable product. It may be perceived as cruel, which, of course, it is not, compared to the psychological manipulation most parents attempt as an alternative to simple, brutal beating in their efforts to modify behavior.
posted by Faze at 7:30 AM on June 26, 2002

> My parents never had to spank my sister, but I was such
> a hellraiser that I needed a spanking now and then (yes,
> sometimes with a wooden spoon) to get my attention.

That kind of spanking just counts as high-intensity communication, which is a level you have to go to sometimes when the kid is doing something destructive (biting his baby sister or having a kick-over-the-displays tantrum in a store) and has all normal communication channels shut down. Pain receptors in the butt area happen to be just another cognitive/sensory modality through which messages can pass, like speech to the ears or printed text to the eyes.

On the other hand, spanking which happens because the parent got mad and lost it and smacked the kid for revenge is out of bounds entirely -- that's the kind that's on the slippery slope to abuse.

Finally, I did spank my kids (maybe two or three times each in their entire childhood) and I felt like a monster for days afterward. The old cliché "This hurts me more than it hurts you" is no joke for me. Those few spankings counted as nasty parental duties, like making them stand still at the doctor's office and get their immunization shots.
posted by jfuller at 7:31 AM on June 26, 2002

As a child in my family, spanking was sort of the nuclear weapon of discipline: You'd know it was a possibility, probably a remote one even when sabers were being rattled, but frightening to contemplate nonetheless, and never waved around lightly. My parents had a pretty substantial credibility in my eyes and fear of punishment had a fairly good deterrent effect on me. Discipline times were few and far between in my early childhood. Things were different, later, but not for any reason relevant to the discussion.

As a result, for reasons I'm not able to explain, I'm now one of the least disciplined and most childlike adults I know. Perhaps it's a rebound effect. I was a pretty good kid, overall, but now I'm terrible at being an adult.

I've been fortunate that my daughter hasn't needed more than the occasional stern "go to your room," so far. Not that I dread disciplining her -- it's a part of the job -- but because I don't think I've established that level of credibility with her. Granted that's partly due to her age (five), but I've rarely had the feeling she was facing the consequences of her actions, that she's had that "uh-oh" moment which establishes the causal relationships that teach responsibility. But then, I haven't needed to do anything like that often.

She's been threatened with a spanking, once, and not from me. I doubt she'll ever receive it.

My infant son's showing signs of being much more intractable. Perhaps things will be different with him. But generally, my opinion's that alternatives exist and they work, for the most part.
posted by majick at 7:35 AM on June 26, 2002

Even more objectionable than unnecessary spanking of kids are school systems with discipline based on corporal punishment.
posted by sheauga at 7:36 AM on June 26, 2002

I can't read all of the links through the tears in my eyes. I was spanked as a child in an era when, I suspect, it was questioned little.

One of my sisters has memories of our spankings as being real abuse. The most significant memory this punishment gave me is the last time my father spanked me, with a belt, and my only reaction was to laugh. As I think about this now, I wonder if that episode has had more of a profound effect on our relationship than I am willing to concede -- a relationship which is filled with tension where I seek acceptance and love.

Will I spank my child? I hope not, because if I do, I am afraid it will be for the wrong reason.
posted by Dick Paris at 7:51 AM on June 26, 2002

I have a 14-month old daughter, and I can't explain to her why banging on a glass table with a metal candlestick is wrong...and I'm not going to wait for her to break it and get cut to teach her a lesson. I have to resort to corporal punishment. But I don't's too easy to get used to, especially if used as a reactionary measure instead of as "intense communication" (sorry for the lack of citing, guys, i'm too lazy to see who said what).

Her mother and I administer little pinches to the thighs and triceps. Gets a quick jolt of pain and definately gets the point across (considering she does understand what "no" means).

As she gets older, I will resort to spanking if she does things truly wrong (breaks the afore mentioned table), but I think a good time out in the corner is pretty damn effective, as long as the child understands what's going on. It's important to realize that for ANY punishment to be effective, and this goes for adults/prison too, it has to be UNDERSTOOD and ACCEPTED.

To sum, if the child is too unruly or too young to understand and accept what's going on, then corporal punishment is the way to get the point across, by using very instinctive means. But once the child can get the point by a good non-forceful means of punishment, it's the parents duty to use that instead.
posted by taumeson at 8:02 AM on June 26, 2002

majick: on the "nuclear weapon of discipline" - spankings were the same way when I was growing up. I was spanked twice, once because I did something incredibly dangerous and stupid (played in traffic), once because I disobeyed a direct request as a challenge to authority, solely to see what would happen. It worked. Never played in traffic again. I think I was threatened with it a handful of other times after that; the deterrent effect was always enough to get me to listen. Of course, my mom always said I was a pretty reasonable kid once I became conversant, so your mileage may vary. My experience has led me to believe that corporal punishment is a useful parenting tool, but only when it's used in a calculated way, and elevated to mythic "nuke" status.
posted by Vetinari at 8:29 AM on June 26, 2002

Dick Paris: I'm sad at what happened to you. It was obviously very wrong, and has affected you for a long time. I wish that your dad had had the skills and techniques of a more humane parent, and the resources as found on the internet by us here, or as distributed by parent educators in book form.

I'm surprised at folks who say they would treat kids with different behaviours in unequal ways -- that would set up massive resentment, I suspect, and could mask favouritism, and sexism (treating boys and girls differently) -- though I can see already what the justification might be.

taumeson: Whoah. I was shocked at your statement "I have to pinch". Why not toddler-proof your house, you would choose pinching over that?
There are loads of alternatives which won't result in your child reacting in pain (emotional/long-term, physical/short-term) - I liked Majicks link above.

(I have a feeling this is where it could go pear-shaped...)
posted by dash_slot- at 8:33 AM on June 26, 2002

when i was a wee one, i got threats of spanking more than i got spanked, which was enough for me. my mother hissing that she'd take my sister or me to the bathroom for a whack when we were at a restaurant was more than enough deterrent to stop whatever hellraising i was doing. the last time i got spanked, of course, was the time i laughed, and after that i got grounded.

my parents never used anything more than their hand, however, but the threat of the belt was effective enough that they never had to use it (on me, i don't remember if they used it on my sister.)

i think slapping or hair-pulling, or, well, anything rather than a firm swat is too much. like someone said above, those seem more indicative of sudden anger, rather than a spanking which, while more deliberate, always seemed, at least at my house, to have a rational reason behind it. i had to sit there for a while until my dad got home and think about what i'd done.

i don't have kids, but i'd like to think i wouldn't spank them when i eventually do -- not because i think spanking is inherently bad, but just that i'd like to not have to do it. timeouts and standing in the corner can be as effective, and i know because i had to do those, too.

oh, and on the topic of corporal punishment at school? nope, no way, never. if my child did something to warrant a swat, i'd wanna hear about it and take care of it within my home, not have some administrator doing it. i always thought corporal punishment at school was wrong.

good post, dash slot, very thought provoking.
posted by sugarfish at 8:33 AM on June 26, 2002

There's an enormous difference between administering physical punishment in a controlled environment and striking a child out of anger. One is a form of discipline, the other is a form of abuse. They shouldn't be confused; neither by observers watching parents deal with their children, and most of all, by the parents themselves. A parent should never strike a child to relieve their own anger.

BTW, dash_slot, great thread.
posted by Loudmax at 8:46 AM on June 26, 2002

The only way to train a puppy is through torture...
posted by ph00dz at 8:51 AM on June 26, 2002

I was just on the way here to post this thread with the CNN article... dash_slot did it much better than I would've.

srw12 - You've hit the nail on the head. My sister and I are in your fiancee's place -- I can count on one hand the number of times I was spanked that I can remember, and I doubt there were many more times than that. But there are times when it's necessary, and my parents _never_ spanked my sister. I'm stuck living with her now at 18 -- she won't do anything unless forced into it, and as a result I'm a neatnik living in a pigsty, among other slightly wearing things.

There are times when it's necessary to discipline a child with force. When I talked back to my mother for the sixth or seventh time one day and completely disobeyed her, she hauled off and smacked me one across the face. I backed down and obeyed, and I have never forgotten that. I've also not pushed her or anyone else that far ever again. But the effectiveness of this kind of discipline also depends on the child. I realized that it was my fault for pushing my mother that far. My sister, when she pushed that hard years later, blamed my mother for smacking her and called the police. (They went away shaking their heads after seeing what a holy terror she was, but she still did it...)

The biggest thing I think is that you're consistent when you discipline a child. When you say, "If you do that, I will ground you for a week.", don't let them go out with friends two days into being grounded. If you say, "If you do that, you'll get a spanking"... spank them if they do it. They'll try, but if you're consitent, they'll give up after a bit. If you're not, they keep playing with you to see how much leeway you'll actually give them.
posted by SpecialK at 9:01 AM on June 26, 2002

treat kids with different behaviors in unequal ways... would set up massive resentment

I don't really think so. I think different behaviors warrant different reactions. I have a brother and sister, both older, who responded well to less drastic discipline measures (sitting in a corner, going to their room, et cetera). I, however, didn't take those measures seriously and was, therefore, treated differently.

Different children have different personalities just like adults.
posted by srw12 at 9:18 AM on June 26, 2002

We should distinguish between a spanking and a swat.

A swat would be a single smack, through layers of protection (ie. a diaper), used as a "startle" mechanism to derail a toddler's/child's focus on whatever misbehaviour they're engaged in. There are probably other methods that could also work, but a swat is immediate and painless.

A spanking is repeated smacking, usually without layers of protection, used as physical punishment, based on the power the Big have over the Small. Used frequently it is, IMO, ineffective; used as an exceedingly rare nuke, it's probably effective. There are, IMO, almost always better alternatives.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:20 AM on June 26, 2002

"I have a 14-month old daughter, and I can't explain to her why banging on a glass table with a metal candlestick is wrong...and I'm not going to wait for her to break it and get cut to teach her a lesson. I have to resort to corporal punishment."

Yes. One can easily imagine that it's far too difficult to remove the candlestick from her grasp, remove her from the room, and stash the candlestick on the fireplace mantle.

Your toddler is obvious forcing you to resort to corporal punishment. You have to pinch her!
posted by five fresh fish at 9:24 AM on June 26, 2002

I was spanked a few times, and expect that my wife and I will have to resort to the "nuclear weapon" once or twice with our kids when they come along ... but only when the "crime" is one of severley endangering one's self despite contrary instructions, or a dangerous attack on a sibling (like biting a baby sister, God forbid that should happen!). Physical pain is the punishment fitting the crime and sends the right message.

General authority violation, however, should get other punishments. I will be very willing to deny videogames, television, desert, trips to *land, the latest toy, etc ... getting all these material things in the face of disobendience is what spoils kids rotten.

And, of course, the little sweeties aren't going to be allowed television, videogames, or internet in their bedrooms --- hopefully that won't get child welfare called on us for making them actually pick up a book:)
posted by MattD at 9:27 AM on June 26, 2002

I'm sure you re right, SpecialK (feel like I'm talking to a cereal!), about the consistency necessary for kids. It reminds me of the old phrase "say what you mean, and mean what you say", so that your kids find you reliable and predictable (in a good way!).
Doesn't that also mean that, if it's wrong to smack one child, it's wrong to smack all of your children? (I don't think I'll get agreement from you on this one!)

From CNN []: "Until researchers, clinicians, and parents can definitively demonstrate the presence of positive effects of corporal punishment, including effectiveness in halting future misbehavior, not just the absence of negative effects, we as psychologists can not responsibly recommend its use," Gershoff wrote.
To me, that's analogous to saying "I can't release this product until it's been thoroughly safety-tested". Which is a good thing.
posted by dash_slot- at 9:31 AM on June 26, 2002

I don't know exactly what constitutes a spanking. I have 2 brothers and we've had a fairly open education, our parents were really supportive and never dodged any topics.

We've got our small and sporadic share of slapping (usually 1 or 2 slaps right on our butts). The fact that my father never hesitated on resorting to this whenever he thought it was needed made wonders for our education.

First and foremost, it gave us limits. It also was a way for us to find out when we were behaving like kids that needed supervision and to think about what exactly was the reason for the punishment and to act on it, so we wouldn't do it again not because we were told not to do it, but because we understood why it was an inappropriate thing to do at that moment.

Second, after we've noticed that our father, though he didn't like it, could resort to it, he didn't have to do it many times. He had this special way to count our strikes like a referee would do in a baseball game. Once we've reached strike 2, we were not that eager to reach strike 3.

We never took it as an abuse or even a harsh thing. I remember feeling a bit resented towards my dad sometimes, but it was a natural reaction from the moment. After sometime, it would vanish.

I don't know if I'll have to do it with my kids (I don't have kids yet). What I know is that when I graduated from college, I thanked my parents for laying down the limits for me, so that I could overcome them later.
posted by rexgregbr at 9:53 AM on June 26, 2002

My mother would occasionally give me an abrupt two handed shoulder shaking if I was simply not listening to her. These shakes were never ever painful, but conveyed that mom meant business, and I better listen up. This was, for the most part, the only physical punishment I ever got: other than that it was just time outs and "serious talks."

We had a funny encounter when I was in college when she did a little demonstration of how she used to rattle my shoulders. It was all in good fun until, a second after she stopped, I started crying. Shoulder shaking seemed to be ingrained in me as really bad news. Funny to see how the body remembers things our heads forget.

Then there was the one time she slapped my face: I was in fifth grade, refusing to go to school, throwing a fit quite unbecoming for a 10 year old. Howling, sobbing, clinging to doorframes as she tried to take me out to the car, the whole bratty bit (I was known for being a bit of a dramatic child). She tried talking, shaking, everything, and, after 30 minutes of my tantrum, got so upset that she slapped me across the face. She remembers the action scaring the hell out of both of us, and that I sobered right up, looked her straight in the eye and said "YOU DIDN'T HAVE TO SLAP ME," and then went right back to sobbing. She claims to this day that it was the most traumatizing maternal moment — I barely remember the encounter, but she still talks about being horrified by the experience.
posted by arielmeadow at 9:55 AM on June 26, 2002

I, too, was spanked as a child; rather I was spanked when my dad was sober and beat all to hell when he was drunk. While that certainly did damage to my psyche it also made things very difficult in my young adulthood since spanking was what happened when you did something "wrong" and avoidance was for the supposed "right thing to do". At 20, there are not many around who are going to spank you for doing unacceptable acts.

I understand the occasional swats on the bottom to get attention from a child out of control. I also believe that there are effective measures to effectively discipline a child before they get to that step. Notice I said DISCIPLINE which means to teach and not PUNISHMENT.

Our jobs as parents is to teach values which can be sheepled into the every lasting debate of right and wrong. More profoundly we can show our children cause and effect and have them take responsibility for their own actions.

As a baby and toddler, they do not have the reasoning skills for that. This is why you baby and toddler proof your house and gently walk them through their day allowing for times of independence and moments where they might get bumped or bruised (a la walking, riding a tricycle, running and falling down) even when you want to wrap them in cotton batting. This too is unfortunately a part of life.

Taumesen - you disgust me. All you are doing is teaching your child is that a THING, a mere object, is more important to you than she is. Every single book on child rearing including the American Association of Pediatrics' suggests that before the age of three diversion and gently explaining why this is a no-no is THE proper form of teaching. What a lazy person you are - you refuse to take time to baby proof much less teach... no, you take the convenient road and hit. I am appalled.

Once they reach preschool age and beyond, I truly believe that there should be some responsibility taken... you remind your child NOT to take his gameboy to school. It gets stolen, lost or absconded. As upset as he is, which you empathize with, you let him deal with that consequence. You do NOT buy him another or spank him for disobedience. Trust me - he learned what the cost of not doing what you said was... the loss of a treasured toy. At this point you can sit down and explain that you have a good reason behind your requests and that while you understand he wants to have his way, his way this time caused him to lose a precious toy.

As they get older, bring money into it. If you tell a child not to run in Aunt whomever's house because of her china doll collection and they do and one gets broken, work in trade or allowance money should be deemed to pay for that which was broken.

My point is as parents we are here to provide a safe setting for our children to grow and mature. We wish for them to have values, and respect and decency and the ability to be thinking adults who weigh options and pick the right (or best) course of action. To do that, we are responsible for taking the time to provide a safe environment for them to learn. That means providing consistent guidelines, a few important and nonbreakable rules and outlining their responsibilities should they disobey, lie or for other infractions. Lessons should be about respect for others and that they hold dear. What does spanking truly teach? That it is okay to hit? That if they do A through M they get spanked. Well at 19 when they do C who will spank them then??? If they steal from a random purse at age eight and you spank them but let them keep the money (or you keep it) what have you taught them??? It was certainly NOT to leave that which does not belong to you alone and not take from others. If you make them give it back and apologize, the lesson is learned... the shame and humiliation and your disappointment teaches them a GREAT deal. If you THEN spank them, is that not overkill and simply a way for you to let our YOUR embarrassment and frustration?? The lesson you taught in spanking was DO NOT GET CAUGHT.

Again, I am not totally anti-spanking. My three year old has had a two swats on her bottom this year at the times when in a rage from not getting what she desires and distraction and removal and time outs have not gotten through. It is one brisk swat that does not hurt and simply breaks through the pace of her tantrum. Then the discipline begins where we sit down, I hold her, and we talk... we discuss what is unacceptable and I come up with a proper response. I explain that response and then it is set in motion. This causes her to remember what she did or did not do, the effect of that action or lack thereof and that this is not something she should do in the future. The lesson sticks in other words. It takes me ten times longer to get through a disciplinary lesson than it does my aunt with my young cousins when she spanks them... but I trust that when I see Drue start for something and then back off and nod and whisper to herself " that is a look not a touch" that I am on the right path.

I understand and agree to a point with the many people who said it also depended on the child; however, when thinking back to your own wild moments in childhood how often was it attention you were seeking or your own way and unsure of how to get that which you were SURE you needed? Wouldn't you have prefered a loving hug and a gentle reminder or a suggestion for a better course of action (or being shown if you were young) than a spanking? Wouldn't a direct consequence have taught you more than being hit? Isn't the lesson you teach your child that you are willing to take the time to work with them through life's mishaps and empathize with their needs and wants even when you cannot always fulfill them a much better lesson??? In my humble opinion, I must say yes.
posted by gloege at 10:07 AM on June 26, 2002

banging on a glass table

Exactly why we didn't get a coffee table, or a dinner table, with a glass top.

I can't remember a time during my son's life (3.5 years) where anything remotely considered spanking was called for. Stern voice, picking him up, looking him in the eye, restraining him, sure. But spanking or hitting? Just haven't found the need to, although I am sure that others would have spanked if confronted with some of the same behaviors.

I just don't see how it couldn't foster a resentment.
posted by adampsyche at 10:20 AM on June 26, 2002

I was going to go off on Taumesen, but gloege did stole my thunder. I DO have children. As gloege stated, children under 3 just don't understand physical punishment. The list provided aboved was actually pretty good at listing disciplinary methods. Especially for infants and toddlers the BEST thing you can do is childproof your house. It allows you peace of mind when your kid is running all over, that he/she won't hurt himself. It also allows your child the ability to be curious, to explore, to run, to hide, to learn by himself. Well, at least until he discovers how to climb.

Having said that, I am not against spanking, spanking serves a valuable purpose. It should be used judiciously in situations where the child is either doing something that will hurt himself or others.
posted by patrickje at 10:43 AM on June 26, 2002

The lesson you taught in spanking was DO NOT GET CAUGHT.

My parents believed in "spare the rod and spoil the child", and "don't get caught" is certainly the way it worked for me. I became secretive, hid as much of my inner life as I could, and developed a knack for plausible deniability. Mental habits built around avoidance of corporal punishment have been problematic in adult life and have proven surprisingly difficult to unlearn. I don't recommend establishing them in your children.

I'm the oldest of a very large family, and it's interesting to see how disciplinary techniques changed as my parents gained experience. Use of corporal punishment definitely diminished; it was still reserved as a last resort, the "nuclear option" other posters mentioned, but was rarely needed. The distance my parents' disciplinary techniques created between us is cause for regret on both sides; they've learned from it, and I think their younger kids will not feel the need to keep them at arms' length.

One of the many reasons I'm not interested in having kids is that I wouldn't want to have to raise a younger version of myself. I don't think my conscience would let me get away with causing pain, but it's hard to imagine pure persuasion working particularly well with a kid like I was.

I don't think the answers to this problem are easy.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:57 AM on June 26, 2002

Something a lot of folks may have missed, but this research does not establish any kind of causal link between spanking and negative behavior. It's purely correlation, which in the realm of science, basically means, "We understand there to be a relationship here between these two variables, but we have not shown that Variable A causes Variable B."
posted by yarf at 1:27 PM on June 26, 2002

yarf: this is true enough, in fact some recent research seems to contest it the other way -- i.e., as corporal punishment went more out of fashion, society became more violent. It's moot, it's a weak correlation, but there's much more -- like the meta-research mentioned in the links above -- to indicate negative effects than anything else, not to mention the pain and suffering we've heard about in this thread. Avoiding that, is to me, a human rights issue.

Why, I wonder aloud to all, is it wrong for other carers to paddle/swat/smack/spank [insert euphemism for assault here], but parents want to keep it as a right for themselves?
posted by dash_slot- at 1:40 PM on June 26, 2002

In private school settings, dash_slot, parents can extend their right to a school administrator, for example. No random adult, no matter their authority over a child, should be allowed to use corporal punishment unless the parent, who essentially represents the rights of the child, consents.

Not all rights apply equally to all people.
posted by insomnyuk at 1:45 PM on June 26, 2002

The biggest thing I think is that you're consistent when you discipline a child.

I couldn't agree more. Inconsistent discipline = no discipline, and creates monsters with no understanding of limits.

Physical discipline (as well as deprivation discipline) works on a behaviorist level--if it works on animals, it will certainly work on children, even very young ones. Appeal-to-reason disciple works on an intellectual and moral level. The question becomes which works better in which situations, and which you feel is appropriate to administer or are comfortable administering.
posted by rushmc at 2:28 PM on June 26, 2002

dash_slot: Doesn't that also mean that, if it's wrong to smack one child, it's wrong to smack all of your children? (I don't think I'll get agreement from you on this one!)

No, you won't. Consistency of reaction towards a child's behaviour is what I desired. Consistency towards all children equally is foolish, as no one person is enough like another to allow for equal, egalitarian treatment. Playing favorites is also not correct, but I would not have reacted properly to the way my sister was raised and she would not have reacted properly to the way I was raised.

Gloege brought up an excellent point that I had left out - discipline, to children, are about consequences. My parents drilled that into me over and over, and I'm surprised I didn't mention it. Should corporal punishment be used in a situation where a child would not realize any other consequences?
posted by SpecialK at 2:33 PM on June 26, 2002

five fresh fish – the distinction between a spanking and a swat is vital. I have used a swat with my children as a tool mostly to make them understand that ”I really mean business now” rather than as a punishment tool in itself, but the threat of “a smack” is usually very effective once they are old enough to understand what it means. I do not believe that a spanking (or any form of physical punishment involving significant pain) is ever called for or effective and that time-outs, removal of privileges and, as they grow older, groundings of various severity and length to suit the offence are the best deterrent.

Patrickje – childproofing a house is not always as easy as you seem to think. If you are living in rented accommodation, it is not possible to add childproof locks to cupboards, for instance. Some toddlers become very adept at foiling these attempts, also. With my first two children (currently 16 and 4), childproofing was not necessary, as they would explore within limits and, once told not to touch something or go somewhere a few times, would usually stay within the limits. However, our youngest (currently 2) is dramatically different and will get into or onto anything that she can (and in a split second!). Attempts at childproofing have only led to more concerted efforts on her part to overcome the obstacles.

This difference between children has applied to all areas of discipline and, despite our best intentions to be the type of parents who would never raise a hand to our children, the only thing that seems to work sometimes is a sharp smack on the bottom (not painful, but enough to make her realise that things are getting serious). The alternative is an extended bout of screaming (from the child), increasing disobedience and general frustration on both sides. Believe me when I say that we tried everything else first, including all 20 of the methods linked to above and then some, but there seems to be something in her genetic make-up that only responds to this.

In short – horses for courses is the best way in my belief. If you can develop sufficient discipline with your children by cuddling them and telling them that they shouldn’t do something, good luck to you. This doesn’t mean that the “warm fuzzy” treatment will work for all children.

In this PC world we have created for ourselves, parents also need to be careful about how they discipline their children for fear of well-meaning neighbours, relative or “friends” reporting parents to those agencies whose job it is to protect children from abuse.
posted by dg at 7:01 PM on June 26, 2002

for all you law experts: where does the law draw the line between corporal punishment and abuse?

living in a country where, as far as i know, any form of corporal punishment is illegal i'm rather shocked by the wide-spread acceptance of it. also, not being a parent, i don't really understand how an adult can't get through to a child without pinching, slapping or spanking. there is a middle way between "warm fuzzy treatment" and corporal punishment. (not meant as an attack on you, dg)

having said that, i can't say that i liked my parents' method. i was never spanked or grounded, never had any privileges taken away. this wasn't because i was such a good child but because my parents worked sarcasm and guilt-tripping into an art form and it worked like a charm on me. does not improve trust or a sense of security, though, and not my recommended middle way.

were any of you spanked in school? sheauga raised the issue a while back. i was appalled when a friend of mine (not from here) told me that his favourite teacher in grade 2 or so was a woman who "didn't hit hard" and was fair when punishing. does this still happen?
posted by hannala at 11:59 PM on June 26, 2002

I went to a catholic first school for five years. I don't recall their attitude to 'official' corporal punishment, but one of the nuns who taught there - Sr. Sadistica - thought it was great fun to thwack any one guilty of a misdemeanour with a wooden ruler on the knuckles. Her qualifying offences could be failing to answer a maths sum accurately, or talkng in class, that sort of heinous affair.
side note: I remember that i could fake the tears when my mum slapped me on the legs -- a rare event, sure enough -- which ended the punishment due to guilt overload on her part, but got me a rep as a wuss. You win some, you lose some!
posted by dash_slot- at 5:43 AM on June 27, 2002

Physical discipline (as well as deprivation discipline) works on a behaviorist level--if it works on animals, it will certainly work on children, even very young ones

Actually, methods other than physical discipline (by which I assume you mean hitting), like positive reinforcement, are far more effective in terms of long-term positive behaviour change with most animals (like dogs), including humans.

I suppose I can understand giving a "swat", but anything more seems to be just lazy parenting, IMHO. Humans are creatures capable of reason, children are no exception, you just have to find a way to communicate effectively with them (and there is no shortage of resources available to help you). We have impressive intellect, I think we should use that to discipline children, rather than resorting to old-fashioned ideas about sparing the rod and spoiling the child. And I think that once you've crossed the line between "no hitting" and "hitting", you've crossed it, and trying to teach a child that hitting is wrong, when you've shown them that it's acceptable because you do it yourself, is a minefield of hypocrisy. I was never spanked, nor will I ever spank. I don't believe violence of any kind is acceptable, especially not against children, whom you're supposed to protect from harm, not cause harm to.

And what gloege said.
posted by biscotti at 7:57 AM on June 27, 2002

If you are living in rented accommodation, it is not possible to add childproof locks to cupboards, for instance.

Really? That is the first thing I do.
posted by adampsyche at 8:02 AM on June 27, 2002

I was spanked with a wooden spoon a child. It might have been a deterrent for a small amount of time, but I eventually outgrew it. Knowing that my parents were dissapointed was much more troubling that the prospect of being slapped in the butt. There have been countless studies that say that positive reinforcement is more effective.

Plus, is hitting a child in an area that has a large amount of fat deposits a good deterrent? I say go for the ribs or solar plexis.
posted by ttrendel at 12:07 AM on June 28, 2002

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