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The Secrets to Raising a Smarter Child
- By Inderbir Sandhu, Ph.D


Spanking - Why Many Parents Keep Seeking For A Better Way

By Rory Sullivan

There has been plenty of discussion about spanking. Although polls taken claim that a high percentage do not spank their children, the majority of words spoken on parenting blogs are by those who do. Many would argue that spanking is not their first means of punishment, in fact it is kept as a last resort. Some would like to differentiate between smacking and "swatting" - giving their child a quick tap on the behind. And all vehemently stress that there is a world of difference between a reasonable spanking and an angry beating. There was not much to be found from those who will not lift a hand to their child under any circumstances.

I think the reason for this is that the non-spankers do not want to speak out too loudly lest they be seen as pointing an accusing finger at the parents who do spank as a form of discipline or punishment. Nobody wants to be made out to be some kind of criminal. A hand taken to the seat of the pants at the appropriate time is viewed as not being so terrible. Many parents say that they have found it can work wonders.

But a growing number are still looking for a better way.

We are aware that it is possible to spank a child into obedience. But the concern is this: Each time I spank him, am I also teaching him, 'When you're angry - hit?' Does anyone know of a child who was spanked into becoming a more loving human being?

And, if spanking is so effective, why do we have such an uneasy feeling about it? Are we really able to silence our inner doubts about the long term effects of physical punishment. Isn't there something inside of us that keeps saying, "Surely there is a better way."

A most compelling argument for not spanking is the suggestion that, by using physical punishment parents interfere with the development of the child's conscience. It relieves guilt too easily. It might even tempt wrong conduct because the child understands the consequences. Have you ever found yourself thinking: This child is just asking for it! Well, maybe they are, literally, asking for it. It is the only way they know of dealing with guilt.

Children do not need a spanking. They need help with managing their guilt and anger. The way we manage our guilt is by feelings of remorse, feeling sorry for what we have done, and thinking about how to make amends. There should be accurate consequences for behaviour. Most often, these consequences are obvious. A common reason given for spanking was in the case of children doing something that put their life in danger. As parents, we need not underestimate the powerful effect of our intense worry and concern. It resonates deeply with a child to see their parents' distress. A brief and firm expression of our feelings might be all that is needed.

If we decide that we will absolutely not raise a hand to a child under any circumstance, then some time might be needed to adjust to a new way of doing things. It might feel as if we are letting the child "get away with it" while we try to do things differently. But, we may even find that stopping spanking has a desirable effect. Not spanking when the child misbehaves, might teach them, "No, I am not going to do things that way any more." Then the child will begin to hear us pointing out what they have done, what the consequences are, and how to make amends. In some situations, guilt and anger can be reduced by openly discussing the child's misdeeds. In other situations, the child's urges need to be accepted without criticism, but limits set on his acts.

When the child is given better ways of expressing guilt and anger, and when parents learn better ways of setting and enforcing limits, the need for physical punishment is diminished.

Further Reading

Liberated Parents, Liberated Children: Your Guide to a Happier Family Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish

Without Spanking or Spoiling: A Practical Approach to Toddler and Preschool Guidance Elizabeth Crary

Between Parent and Child: The Bestselling Classic That Revolutionized Parent-Child Communication Dr Haim G Ginott (Avon Books, 1969)


Rory Sullivan writes Hamelife, a website dedicated to helping parents negotiate the unpredictable waters of parent-child communication. With the 30 Ways at its heart, Hamelife encourages parents to avoid exasperating their children by embracing empathy, respect, and patience.

Child Development

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