To Spank or Not to Spank


At The Mother Company, the answer to the question, to spank or not to spank is a clear, “not to spank.”

However, TMC’s audience is not totally in-line with the company’s point-of-view. In fact, TMC’s very own poll shows that (at the time this blog was written) while 65% of voters feel spanking is “never okay,” about 35% of voters support spanking under certain circumstances.

The bottom line is many parents spank their kids, and we got curious about why spanking is perceived to be an effective form of discipline.

Robert Larzelere, a professor of parenting and methodology research at Oklahoma State University, advocates a specific kind of spanking, delivered after a certain sequence of non-corporal discipline is used.

Noel Janis-Norton is a learning and behavior specialist with more than 40 years experience helping parents and teachers. She provides her take on the ineffectiveness of spanking, and one non-corporal disciplinary tactic to use in order to get kids to cooperate. — TMC

Robert Larzelere

If misbehavior is occurring, it’s important for parents to communicate, reason and listen first — try to understand where they child is coming from. This is key for children to learn and emulate. Also, explicit expression of nurturance when they’re being good really helps kids have more emotional regulation. If the child is hungry or tired, those needs should be immediately met. If empathy and conversation don’t work to curb the misbehavior, then taking away a privilege or giving a time-out, should be enacted. If the child demonstrates persistent defiance in the face of non-corporal discipline, then research clearly shows a two swat spanking on the rear end has been shown to be effective for 2- to 6-year-olds. Most children quickly learn to cooperate with time-outs or a privilege removal if noncompliance consistently leads to a two-swat spanking. Eventually, resorting to spanking then becomes unnecessary.

If a parent sees fit to spank, in order to have a successful outcome, a child should never be spanked without warning, or when the parent is out-of-control angry. So, parents should clearly give one warning each time, that if the misbehavior continues, the child will go to a time-out. A parent can count to three – the child will typically fall into line after the number “two” is reached, if three is consistently followed with a time-out. If the child does not stay on the time-out chair for the required time (say, one minute for each year of age), then a single warning should be used before a two-swat spank to enforce cooperation with the time -out. If the child still does not cooperate after a warning, the parent should regulate his/her emotions, so that s/he administers time-outs and spanking in a calm state. Parents should never escalate the spanking physically or verbally. If this procedure doesn’t work after using it consistently for a few times (say, 6 or 7 times), then try another way to enforce time-out, such as removing a privilege. Professional help from a clinical child psychologist may be necessary if a child persists in their defiance.

Once a spanking is complete, parents should have a talk with their child making it clear their actions to spank were motivated out of love and concern. A parent could say, “I want you to know I love you. I spanked you because I need you to cooperate with me. I don’t want to do this again. I’d like to hug you if you want.”

Noel Janis-Norton

Without getting into a moral argument, here are a few reasons why spanking is an ineffective disciplinary strategy. It can generate a distrust or even fear of parents, and we don’t want our children to behave out of fear. We want our children to behave because they’ve internalized the right thing to do.

We also know that kids imitate their parents, so spanking sets the example that it’s okay to hit as a solution to problems and to get what you want. If the spanking is occasional, which is usually the case, then by definition it’s an ineffective method of discipline because it’s not a consistent consequence. Our kids need to be able to predict how we’ll react – it helps them feel secure when they know the limits.

If you have kids that are more sensitive, they might remember their spanking/s for years. Most parents would rather not spank their kids. The good news is that spanking is completely unnecessary when you know more effective strategies.

An “action replay” is the most useful consequence I know of to improve future behavior, which is actually the purpose of a consequence. It’s a far more effective strategy than an angry scolding, taking away a privilege or giving a spanking. It always ends all discipline on a positive note, and it wipes the slate clean because the incident ends with your child behaving appropriately.

Here’s how it goes: Once your child is calm, you reenact the situation that caused him/her to misbehave. Then, instead of opting to react in the way that got him in trouble, he gets to choose a different way to behave – a positive way that results in a better outcome. This way, what gets stored in his long-term memory is the last thing that happened: He did the right thing, and you were pleased with him.

Robert Larzelere is a professor of parenting and methodology research, at Oklahoma State University. His priority is to emphasize improving research methodology and research on parental discipline. He authored the book, Authoritative Parenting.

Noel Janis Norton, founder and director of The Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting Centre in London, is a learning and behavior specialist with more than 40 years experience helping parents and teachers on both sides of the Atlantic. She authored the book, Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting.

Please share your thoughts/anecdotes/musings about this topic below in the comments section.  We love hearing from you!

The Mother Company aims to support parents and their children, providing thought-provoking web content and products based in social and emotional learning for children ages 3-6. Check out the first episode of our children’s series, “Ruby’s Studio: The Feeling Show,” along with our beautiful children’s booksmusichandmade dolls, and more. We want to be a truly helpful parenting tool… For you!

Posted in: Behavioral Issues, Expert Advice, Discipline