Why I Don’t Spank

I don’t normally post on Sunday, but my friend Zoie is running a sort of impromptu carnival for International Spank Out Day and I decided to take part. Which ends up being confusing, because today is my anniversary and I wrote about that yesterday, and yesterday was Spank Out Day and I’m writing about it today. But I’m doing the best I can, so let’s all just run with it. This particular post originally appeared over at PhD in Parenting.

Before I had children I had some very specific ideas about discipline. When I saw unruly kids in the grocery store I was dead convinced it was all because of poor parenting. Certainly, if I set up a strong system of rewards and punishments my own children would never run in the aisles or have a temper tantrum over a box of fruit snacks. All it took was a firm and consistent hand, right?

Um, wrong. Having actual children of my own, to no one’s surprise, changed my point of view considerably. It turns out that children are people too, and they have their own personalities. Personalities that may or may not respond in the way you expect them to. In fact, it’s pretty certain that they will not respond in the way you expect them to, kids are fun that way. All of the tools and tricks and firm-but-fair rules in the world will not change that. Which is how I found myself with two largely unreasonable little people on my hands, flying blind.

The one thing that I held to, through the trials and the tribulations and the nights when I had no idea at all of how to respond, was that I didn’t want to hit my children. It just isn’t for me. In the time and place that I grew up spanking was commonplace. While the methods varied, some type of corporal punishment was practiced in pretty much every home that I visited. And while I think that my peers and I generally grew into well-adjusted adults all the same, I don’t choose to repeat it.

Disgruntled children on the grass
Life with kids is not all sunshine and roses, as it turns out

Why not? If I was spanked and I am ‘just fine’, why wouldn’t I spank my own kids? There are a few reasons. The biggest, for me, is that I don’t trust myself to use corporal punishment in a manner that is free of anger. Let’s face it, kids can really push our buttons. I have had moments in parenting where I have felt as angry as I have ever felt in my entire life. If I had hit my child at that moment, I do not believe that I could have done so in a measured and controlled manner.

Even beyond my own emotions, though, I see some good reasons not to spank. I am trying to teach my children not to use strength or violence to get their way. I say, “Use your words,” a lot when I’m dealing with two kids and one toy. If I resorted to physical punishment I think it would confuse my message, and set an example that maybe hitting is OK, at least some of the time. And, in the long run, I don’t believe that spanking would work in the way I’d want it to. If, for example, my toddler were to run into traffic, spanking him might stop the behaviour for the moment. I don’t think that he would develop better judgment and be safe in the street because of it, though.

The kiddos having fun together
Thankfully, most of the time, the good outweighs the bad

I am not taking some rogue position, here. The Canadian Pediatric Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics both recommend strongly against spanking. The country of Sweden outlawed all corporal punishment in 1979. As of March 2009, 24 countries have enacted bans on corporal punishment of any kind. And children in foster care where I live in British Columbia (and in most jurisdictions) are not allowed to be subjected to corporal punishment. There is a strong consensus amongst experts in child development that spanking is harmful to children.

If I don’t spank, what do I do? That is really a whole other topic for another day. However, I will say this much – it is absolutely possible to teach your children how to behave without resorting to physical punishment. I would not hold myself and my children up as an example, but I do believe that I have some pretty normal kids. They are learning and growing all the time, and can generally be taken out in public. Steering clear of hitting has not turned them into monsters who run roughshod over their parents and the world at large.

I still don’t have all the answers when it comes to parenting, far from it. I continue to learn and grow along with my children, and together we figure a lot of it out. I make mistakes, certainly. But I am glad that I know what my personal boundaries and limits are. At the end of the day, my kids and I have to live with my parenting choices in a very real way. For me, it is very important that I am comfortable with the choices I make. Or, at least as comfortable as is humanly possible. So, while I might not always be the parent I would hope to be, I know that I will not resort to spanking in any situation.

What about you? Do you spank? Why or why not?

PS – Every month I do a monthly review of things I learned. Some are serious, some are funny, and all are hard-won. I will be running my April review on May 2, which is tomorrow. If you want to play along, there will be a link-up, so write a post on or before the link-up date and come back here to include it.

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Comments

  1. Yep, it sure I’d tempting when kids are being little monsters, but I don’t see how I could teach that ‘hitting is bad’ ( except when I do it? Except in martial arts class? Except . . . And so forth.)
    Lady M’s last post … The Earth- Brought to You by our SponsorMy Profile

  2. We don’t spank for discipline at all in our family. I grew up with the occasional spanking and I have vivid memories of pleading with my parents not to spank my little sister for doing something naughty. It felt wrong to me as a child and also now as a parent. I believe that punishments like spanking do not actually teach anything to our children, other than violence is sometimes the solution. Which is wrong on many levels.

    Recently a longtime friend of mine told me how she had to start spanking her toddler for being naughty and not listening. I was really upset when I heard this but didn’t want to be overly judgemental. I had a hard time expressing my opinion without coming across as obnoxious.

    I really enjoyed the wording in this post and how you personalized your reason. Instead of issuing a blanket statement you were able to bring your opinion down to a very personal level.
    Mama in the City’s last post … Im Feeling Really Good And Not Afraid To Tell You!My Profile

  3. Nope, no spanking. I did hit the bathroom countertop once when I was really mad at Angus. It hurt my hand. The kid probably would have been softer, but I’m still glad it wasn’t the kid.
    allison’s last post … Wordless Wednesday- Pretty But Not Too Bright OR This Ones Not Going to Survive Long in the WildMy Profile

  4. Thank you so much for including this post for Spank Out Day!

    I also had very definite ideas about parenting. And then I had actual kids. I too wanted a gentler way, once I had these little being I loved. It’s a good thing I have some easy years before the challenging ones arrive. But, as you mention, the good outweighs the bad.
    Zoie’s last post … Spank Out DayMy Profile

  5. Carrie says:

    Well said!!!! I also grew up with spankings and “i’m ok” too. I knew before I had kids that spanking kids was not the route I was willing to take. I wasn’t sure of other options, at the time, because of what I grew up with. But I was willing to figure it on my own. I think I have figured some it out now (my girls are 7 and 10) Yes I am still learning, and at different ages/stages they can be challenging. Yet I feel my girls are learning different self coping strategies, as they see me interact with them. We use communication. logic consequences, and them taking ownership for their behaviour. I could talk about this topic for awhile.. But I’ll end with this… If a parent is teaching their kids not to hit other kids.. “Why are we hitting kids to teach them hitting is wrong???”

  6. We don’t spank.

    I have a friend who — when her children were infants — mocked me for using time outs. She believed that since she’d been spanked and turned out okay, it would be fine to do so w/ her kids. She quickly learned that spanking doesn’t work. She spent a lot of time threatening spankings for minor infractions, then negotiating w/ her children to avoid a spankings, then doling out various intensities of spankings, then consoling her children (who would generally emotionally manipulate her from grief-induced prize or relaxation of the rules) that she ultimately decided it was not the easier method of child discipline.
    Nan | wrathofmom.blogspot.com’s last post … Canadian Money and Stamps Are Going To Get Better Looking In The Very Near FutureMy Profile

  7. Gah. Now want to edit last comment:

    “…emotionally manipulate her FOR A grief-induced prize or relaxation…”
    Nan | wrathofmom.blogspot.com’s last post … Canadian Money and Stamps Are Going To Get Better Looking In The Very Near FutureMy Profile

  8. We don’t spank, never have. Our reasons are similar to yours, we just don’t believe that spanking a child teaches them anything and that discipline is primarily a tool for teaching appropriate behavior. I will admit, though, that there have been some very trying moments with my kids when I’ve thought to myself, “Aha…so THIS is why some parents choose to spank!”
    Earth Muffin’s last post … The Ex FactorMy Profile

  9. Christy says:

    I too knew that I didn’t want to hit my kids to discipline them. And I too mistakenly believed (when I was a better parent before having kids) that just being consistent was the answer. Then I had kids and realized that they are little people, but people nonetheless. My mother occasionally says to me, at times when my kids are out of control, that if I just gave them a little smack on the hand or face to “smarten them up” or shock them into stopping, all would be good. I obviously disagreed with her but there have been two times, once with each older child, when I was pushed to the bring of blinding, red rage with my children and I could barely breathe with the anger I felt and my complete inability to stop them that I lost it and slapped them. I have never done it since because I realized it was my inability to deal with my own emotions that caused me to slap them, so how must they, just wee ones without the life experience and wisdom that I had, feel when they have strong emotions. I was disgusted in myself and vowed to always try to model how to deal with situations with grace and calm. I clearly fall very short on a regular basis but that is the ideal that I strive for. Also, I discovered that it doesn’t change their behaviour at all, contrary to what my mother said would happen. In fact, it made their behaviour worse, and then they started hitting me back! Fair enough, because all I had done was show them that hitting is how you deal with strong emotions. My mother still to this day believes that it would be better for me if I just hit them once in a while (the whole “you turned out fine” belief), but I ignore her or pretend I don’t hear her when she says it. Now yelling is my next personal battle/goal!

    • While I have never hit my kids, I have had to put my hand in my pocket a couple of times to keep it from happening. And I know some people who share my belief that spanking is wrong, but have hit their kids in a really tense moment and regretted it.

      I think my point is this – we’re all just doing our best. And falling short of our goals on occasion is probably not going to be the thing that destroys our relationship with our kids. We can believe something is wrong, and still find ourselves doing it. So I thank you for your candor, and I hope that you were as gentle as possible with yourself.

      Also? I hear you on the yelling. I am, it pains me to admit, a yeller myself.

      • Christy says:

        Geesh, that was rather candid, wasn’t it? The irony is that most people I know would be surprised to find out that I did do it, albeit in anger, that I’m not the calm, collected parent they see. Yet when I talk to other moms about their own emotions about parenting I hear that they have gone through similar situations. Which makes me question the “it’s hurting me more tan it’s hurting you” thing of the previous generations. Were they unquestioningly following what they were taught? Did they feel horrible after hitting their children? So why did they continue? Did they lack self-reflective abilities or the strength to go against the norm?

  10. I was spanked and hit all through childhood and adolescence. It does NOT result in kids turning out OK when it is taken too far, and that line just keeps moving once one starts with any corporal punishment, and especially once they start fighting back. It is ugly and awful and has definitely resulted in me having a very hard time with parenting in a gentler manner. Thank you – great post!
    eva’s last post … Seven Months! Already!My Profile

  11. I definitely used to believe I would use spanking as a disciplinary tool before I had children (at first because it was what I grew up with, later because I believed it to be biblical teaching).

    I didn’t much like the idea for one of the same reasons you listed – I didn’t think I would ever be able to not spank in anger. Fortunately I’ve come to change my mind and feel released from all that…and surprised at how much I still hung onto the idea even when I didn’t like it! It’s still so ingrained (particularly in the US, I think, where I grew up).

    Thanks for the well thought out post – you stated it awesomely. 🙂

  12. I am very proud of the fact that I have never hit my son. I have become so angry that my fingernails dug holes into my palms, but it hasn’t happened yet. He’s two and a half, so he tries my patience often.

    My husband is a therapist who has worked with children and families with serious behavioral/mental health issues, and he has seen that spanking never, ever makes things better. I’m a teacher who has been through extensive training on working with children to improve their behavior. But both of us have been tempted to give him a swat. I hope we’re able to continue controlling our tempers. I do not believe that spanking ever makes a situation better. I was spanked as a child, and I never felt anything other than blind rage and a desire for revenge after a spanking. I don’t want to ever do that to a child.
    Melissa E.’s last post … Cookie-Baking FunMy Profile

  13. Rebecca Bluemel says:

    I’ve been recently reading about “gentle discipline” (e.g. a book by Alfie Kohn). So I wanted to share what I’ve been learning with my dad. I usually think of my dad as open minded and interested in what I’ve been doing. However this time I was extremely embarrassed even when I was explaining Kohn’s thesis and opinions. Then my dad turned it to me and asked what were examples from my childhood. I started crying right in front of him. Not because I had an abusive childhood but because it was just an awkward situation and it felt too much like a therapy session. I’m still embarrassed. I supposed that I just learned that I can’t talk about discipline with my parents.

  14. I have spanked in the past. BUT, it sucked and I stopped. I hated myself for doing it. It felt wrong. It didn’t make my children any better behaved than if I didn’t. So today I spend alot of time using my words and helping my children use their own to come to a reasonable understanding. We do alot of deep breathing. We do alot of quiet reflection. My kids aren’t hitters (other than to each other and that is a natural part of sibling hood). They are typical children. Some days they are wonderful, some days they test me. All I know is at the end of the day when I lay my head down and I replay the day, I have no regrets on how I lived with my little people. I love them and hugged them when some parents would have spanked and I feel pretty good about that. PS…I often hug when some might spank. It is a great way to diffuse a tense situation and often, my kids just need a hug to calm them down to the point of gaining some rational back. It works like a charm. Plus, it really thows them off….they expect me to be angry and instead they get love. It’s great.

  15. I had no idea people still spanked. Never really crossed my mind. I lived through the days where the principal gave bad kids the strap and my cousins got the “stick” if they were late for dinner. NO THANK YOU.

  16. I think spanking in anger is a bad idea; however, I think that a quick swat with all the pants on can be an effective way to stop a particularly unacceptable behavior. For example, my toddler boy recently ran out into the street in front of our house, while I was out there with him (he was not unsupervised, just fast). I grabbed his hand, brought him into the house, and and swatted his bottom once while I told him never to run into the street again. My goal was not to hurt him, but to drive the point home that this was a behavior that could not continue to happen. Especially with boys I have found that merely telling them something does not do the trick; they sometimes need a different kind of communication.

  17. I agree with Holly. I have spanked each of my kids. But only when the behaviour they are engaging in is of serious an immediate danger to themselves and others. For me spanking is so out there in terms of punishment it is used to bring immediate, imperative attention to the wrongful action and hope it ensures the child will slow down and remember the spanking before a repeat performance. Spankings in my house have been given for (always after warning/other interventions): climbing the stove in the kitchen , running out between cars in the parking lot, trying to feed the baby jawbreakers, turning the handle on the propane tank on the BBQ in the back yard, saying they had a tummy ache (didn’t want to dance in gym) then instead of going to school office/sick room, walking home 10 blocks from school – across a highway (in Kindergarten!) without telling anyone…

    • I’m curious about the last example (which I will admit sounds completely terrifying). How did you warn or intervene before the spanking in that case?

      I’m also curious how you actually manage to keep your emotions out of the situation. Do you honestly believe that you can? I know that when my own kids have run in parking lots / climbed the stove / played with the BBQ I have felt terrified and furious, and those were the times I was tempted to hit them. I had to physically restrain myself from doing so more than once. I know (FOR MYSELF) that if I had spanked on those occasions, there would have been more than a little bit of anger and literal lashing out involved, which I’m not personally comfortable with. What are your thoughts on that?

      Also, thank you for sharing. I’m asking these questions because I would like your perspective, not as a means of attacking.

  18. I’ve never spanked the kids, but I do yell. I yell when I get very frustrated. I have been trying to stop myself from yelling by saying to the kids “I am getting upset now and I am going to start yelling soon” but then my 2 year old just gets more upset and cries about my yelling.
    Capital Mom’s last post … Monday Moments- SurpriseMy Profile

  19. the other moms are wimps. spanking builds character and discipline. Just because it’s not popular, doesn’t mean it’s not right. Everybody gives their kids disney movies to watch, I’d never do that. I prefer to spank with discipline, and stimulate their minds to be rigid and strong, instead of punishing them with disney pulp rubbish and sparing the rod.

    spare the rod, spoil the child.

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