Spare the Rod? Challenging Spanking

Please said it aint so: More than 90% of American parents spank their toddlers three times a week.

I think this calls for a little bit of a brainstorm. When is spanking the best way to teach a child how to behave?

Personally, my answer is never. But if you’ve got a situation where spanking seems like the best idea, perhaps we can come up with some awesome alternatives. No one really enjoys spanking their kids, right? I hope?

Over the past few days I’ve seen several articles about a proposed Kansas law that allows parents, caregivers, and teachers to not only hit a child, but to also bruise them. (It failed, thank goodness.)

This isn’t the only mind-bogglingly bad idea I’ve heard of from Kansas recently. So what floored me is how many people actually support this idea, saying that parents can’t raise good children without smacking them around some.

What does a spanking teach that other disciplinary measures cannot? Seriously, come up with a situation that warrants a spanking (something your child has actually done, so not “murdering all the neighbors” or anything like that), and let’s see if we can come up with another alternative. If you want to send anonymously, drop a comment through the form and I’ll post for you (assuming you’re not trolling) using just one initial or the identifier of your choice.

As for me, people who know my kids often ooh and ahh about how good they are.* And I always tell them it’s just their factory presets. I really do believe kids want to be good by default. I have never spanked either of mine. Not even once.

But I did once intentionally hurt Ethan. He was just beginning to get some teeth, and somehow he got it in his noggin that it was funny to bite me while breastfeeding. He’d bite, I’d yelp in pain, and he would laugh. So I took my problem to a group of friends, and several recommended “one weird old trick” … just flick him on the cheek if he bites.

So I did. One time. And that little baby just stared right into my soul with the saddest look of confusion and broken trust I have ever seen, then broke into inconsolable sobs. At that moment, I promised myself and him that I would never do anything like that again.

I found a great book on Positive Discipline, and I prayed for help. I decided that anytime he bit me, I’d simply close up shop and that would be the end of that breastfeeding session. I could pump, and while I took care of that he could have a bottle of cold breastmilk from the fridge. It didn’t even took him three times to catch the idea and stop biting me. And mind you, I stopped breastfeeding him when I found I was pregnant with Mary, so he was definitely younger than 5 months old.

Jane Nelson, author of “Positive Discipline,” teaches a handful of important concepts (you can find many listed here.) One of these concepts is that discipline is not synonymous with punishment. It’s about teaching your child. In a sense you’re teaching them to follow your example, or to become your disciple, if you will. So — how will you lead them?

I think I’ve said enough here for now, so I’ll just leave you with this to chew on (alas, it’s gone: the point was that several studies show spanking does more harm than good, there are several other ways to teach discipline, and that if spanking is just what the parent does because they’re mad, consider learning to model self-control.)

*Disclaimer: I can think of three friends who have only seen the more emotional side of Mary. She’s emotional about many things, though, including how much she loves her family. And she generally chooses the right in the end. So I’m not going to stifle her feelings. 🙂


  1. RyanE

    I remember only once my dad ‘seriously’ spanked, and that was when my siblings, chasing through the house on Father’s Day, managed to catch my younger sister’s finger in the door, nearly severing it. I think my brother deserved it, but it was not nearly the punishment and lesson of seeing my sister’s finger from that point on.

    My mom spanked rarely, but when she did, it was more emotional than physical (didn’t hurt), and you had to have done something pretty stupid to deserve it.

    I don’t hold it against them, and I don’t resent it, and none of us turned out monsters.

    That said, times have changed. 100 years ago, times were rougher, and I think physical toughness and the like were more important, and I think kids had a greater opportunity to do more *physically* dangerous things (get into the guns, do stupid things with the farm animals, etc.). Spanking may have been more applicable at the time.

    I’ve noticed that the times I’ve been temped to spank, or (very infrequently) have swatted a kid or two, it *wasn’t* about teaching, or about consequences, it was about anger, *my* anger.

    Not sure I’ve got a point to make, but those are my thoughts… 🙂


  2. Velda

    My parents were spankers. I got spanked with a paddle, with a cheesegrater (that one’s a long story for another day), and clearly remember being threatened with a belt. I don’t hold that against them and I do think we turned out alright, all things considered.

    Honestly I think one major issue with spanking is that it teaches that “authority” is anyone bigger / stronger than you who can threaten you into doing whatever they want, and that we submit to authority to avoid getting hurt. I think it has the potential of creating bullies and abusers, as well as their victims.

    People argue that we have too many young people in prison because their parents weren’t spanking enough. Actually I’m pretty sure that’s more to do with the prison-industrial complex; again that’s a thought for another day. Still I’d be curious to hear whether there are lots of inmates who weren’t sufficiently punished as kids.


  3. Beckett

    I don’t think it’s necessary or appropriate. I don’t agree with the “last resort” or “only if they run into the street” reasons for spanking. If your dog runs into the street you don’t hit your dog to teach them not to. Everyone realizes that’s not only cruel, but also ineffective. I felt that my role as a parent of a young child was to be as vigilant about their safety as I would be with a pet. I think some parents end up at their “last resort” because they start from expecting a higher level of maturity and judgment than is age-appropriate.

    At 5 and 10 now my kids are not angels but I don’t think they’re on the path to juvenile court either.


  4. Dani

    I was spanked, and while I warrant that at times spanking is acceptable, I too believe there are many other alternatives.

    As a nanny/Aunt my biggest thing has been… 3 strikes and you are out.

    For older kids I literally had 3 paper baseballs (laminated) for each child – a different coloring “stitching” helped them know which balls were theirs. Every time they got a strike (which when they caught on, wasn’t very often) they had to mark an X across that ball w/ a dry erase marker. Now, these strikes counted for the whole week, because on the weekends we usually had something fun planned – a trip to the zoo, ice cream sundaes, putt-putt golfing, swim party, etc.

    Strike 1 = verbal warning + possible time out (depending on circumstance)

    Strike 2 = time out + loss of a privilege (internet, phone, tv, even the threat of losing reading time – at the time Harry Potter was HUGE. lol!)

    Strike 3 = loss of whatever was planned. They would have to either sit out, or stay home with a babysitter.

    I can’t begin to tell you how well this worked. I’ve used this multiple times with multiple kids, and it’s amazing. No yelling, no hitting, rarely any anger (on the child’s end), and they understand why they are losing out on the activity.


    1. Velda

      That’s a great idea, Dani. I did “pebbles” with my kids. They earned pebbles by taking care of basic self-care and chores. They could use their pebbles to buy screen time and other fun things. They could also pay to have me mediate their arguments, and they had to pay fines for causing danger or harm. I blogged about that here somewhere.

      I think the bigger thing, though, was just trying to point out what behaviors brought about the most happiness, and encouraging them to roll with that.


  5. Ken

    Abusers are not born, they are created/made…………using physical punishment, to inflict pain upon a child, as a method, to curtail negative/bad/unacceptable behavior, demonstrates, in the most blatant obvious evidence, that, the adult/caretaker/parent, does not possess the basic necessary emotional stability/emotional skills, to be around children, anyone’s children.

    If we, as the human family, could discover, “the why”, the key to understanding the motive, behind every action, we, would discover, that, parents that choose to spank/hit/strike their child, to inflict pain, for the sole purpose of bringing about the end of behavior, that, is causing them discomfort, causing them, frustration, causing them to lose patience, because they, are being disturbed.

    If Father/God, were to strike us, every time, we exhibited negative behavior, how would we feel.????

    How many experiences, of being struck, would be required, to curtail our negative behavior????

    How much time, of living/existing in this egregious, demeaning, destructive environment, (by those, that say, they love us) would we last, before, choosing to strike out, against others, because striking out against Father/God, is not possible, so let us pass it down, against, someone or something, smaller/weaker than us, the abused.

    Whether a parent, strikes/spanks(which can turn into abuse, in a split second) a child, to inflict pain, to curtail behavior, or a spouse strikes another spouse, to inflict pain, to convey a message, followed up, by a pathetic, guilt ridden, motivated, I love you…………………….those standing by, must have the courage, to speak up and say, (adamantly), Yes, they, have your love, written all over their faces or bodies.

    Every child, has something of value, to motivate them, into placing their best foot forward, even if it is for 30 minutes at a time.

    It is up to us as parents, to discover what that child values, what motivates that child, to bring their attention/focus, front and center.

    Children and Women, are repulsed by anger……………..they detest anger.

    A child, a woman, will not feel loved, until they feel safe.

    As men, we must choose to be men of integrity, men of honor, to choose to be emotionally available to all of the women and children in our lives.

    The greatest example of a man of integrity, a man of honor, to walk this earth, would be Jesus…………… is my evidence.

    1. Suffer the little children, to come unto me Luke 18:16…………when members of the 12, who suffered from their own pettiness, their own weaknesses, their inability, because of the way they were raised, their own life lessons, did not always, catch the vision, as to why, Jesus was here and what He cherished/valued the most……………Children being one.

    Case in Point…………Matthew 18:5-6………….a millstone.

    2. Women being second, a virtuous woman, Proverbs 31:10 far above the price of rubies…………Do you think, you, understand Jesus??? what motivated Him,??? Then ask yourself this, where—–with whom, did Jesus, spend almost every available hour, to have his battery recharged……….to escape the throngs, to escape the 12……………..What home, did, Jesus, seek out, on a consistent/persistent basis, by himself………………the home of one of his best-dearest friends, Lazarus, where Mary, Martha and the other loyal, doting, attentive women, who adored Jesus, cared for Him. Jesus, the man, sought the company of women.

    That speaks volumes to me, as to His, level of emotional availability, to the children and the women in His life and all those, written upon the palm of His hand and in His heart.

    Husbands, dads, here is a question for you, as you, hold the images of your young sons, in your mind………………… 20 years, they approach your wife, with the following pertinent question, asking her, to, “not” be his mother, for the next 30 minutes, just be a woman, as she addresses, this poignant question………….Tell me all that I need/must know, to be a better man/dad/husband, than my dad.

    What information, will she arm your sons with.????

    God bless you all.


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