To Spank or Not to Spank

Dear Elaine,

How do you feel about spanking? Some people say that spanking is child abuse. Other people say that spanking is necessary. My parents spanked me and I turned out okay. My son is two years old and I seem to be spanking him all the time and I don't like it. Sometimes I get so angry at him, I'm spanking before I know it. He does the same things again though. Is spanking wrong or am I doing it wrong? I bet you've never spanked your children.

Signed, C

Questions about spanking still divide parents. This letter is typical of the many questions I have received on this subject.

Is spanking necessary?

No, there are alternatives. The problem is that the alternatives don't immediately come to mind when we are angry. Spanking is the easiest and quickest response on a parent's part.

Is spanking child abuse?

Repeatedly hitting a child with the intent of causing pain sounds like abuse to me. Hitting a child with belts or paddles could easily turn into abuse. Beating is beating. If, however, we are talking about ONE swat to a young child's behind to get their attention, I don't think that is child abuse. Such a swat is a parent's explanation point. It conveys to the child a demand for attention and can emphasize a parent's message.

"I said, (swat), NO!"

Used all the time, the effectiveness will be lost.

Does spanking work?

Not if we want to improve a child's behavior. Spanking often increases the very behavior that we are trying to stop. Kids will do anything for attention, including something that will result in a spanking. That is why young children will repeat the offense. Kids will often look straight at a parent to make sure the parent is watching when they commit a "spanking" offense.

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Why do kids seem to enjoy upsetting parents?

Kids like to watch parents get upset. It relieves boredom. Think how much power that gives a child over a grownup. All two year olds are power hungry creatures. A reasonable approach is to give a two year old plenty of attention when he is behaving appropriately and to remain calm when providing discipline.

To remain calm, get away from your two year old!

Parents of toddlers need breaks in order to maintain sanity and patience.

Why doesn't spanking work?

Spanking teaches but it teaches the wrong things:

  1. Avoid getting caught.
  2. Lie if you do get caught.
  3. Pick on someone smaller.

How does spanking teach kids to lie?

If a big, angry person with a belt was standing over you yelling, "Did you do this?", what would you say? Of course children lie in such situations. Do we really expect them to say, "Yes, I did it. Beat me to death?"

Is spanking wrong? Does it damage children?

Yes and no. There are parents who balance spanking with positive, affirming behavior and their children accept the spanking as part of their parents' love and guidance. These children don't feel abused. As this person said, she turned out "okay."

Children who experience spanking without that balance of love and concern carry the pain for the rest of their lives.

There are also children who pass on the heritage of abuse because of the beatings they received from their parents.

Personally, I don't approve of spanking and wish that I never had.

But I have. Each incident was pure revenge and desperation on my part, nothing to be proud of. I regret the times I resorted to spanking. I never felt good about it and it never improved anything. I always thought of what Rudolph Dreikurs said. He cautioned parents (who prefer not to spank) not be too hard on themselves when they lost control and spanked a child. He said, "tell yourself that the kid asked for it and deserved it, it is over now, and time to deal with the problem."

What comes after spanking?

Spanking as one serious drawback: Kids get bigger. It is dangerous to spank children over six years of age. They will soon be as big or bigger than their parents! But seriously, after children can reason and understand the consequences of their behavior, spanking seems degrading to both parties. There are other alternatives that produce much better results.

Should you spank your child?

You are the only one who knows the answer to that question. Trust your own feelings. Evaluate your own circumstances. Think about the future outcomes. Make your own decisions.

next: The Matter of Obedience

APA Reference
Writer, H. (2008, November 16). To Spank or Not to Spank, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 15 from

Last Updated: July 25, 2014

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD