Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Again With the Spanking…

The anti-spanking crusaders are at it again. Another study—this one included a nice large sample of 2,500 participants—showed that those who were spanked more frequently at age 3 were more likely to be aggressive by age 5.

Supposedly, the study controlled for other factors that might lead to aggression at age 5:
“Led by Catherine Taylor, the Tulane study was the first to control simultaneously for variables that are most likely to confound the association between spanking and later aggressive behavior. The researchers accounted for factors such as acts of neglect by the mother, violence or aggression between the parents, maternal stress and depression, the mother's use of alcohol and drugs, and even whether the mother considered abortion while pregnant with the child.”

But the study misses several crucial confounding variables!

First, how was the child spanked? Was it in a rageful manner? That is the most important factor in discipline—whatever method the parent uses (spanking, yelling, time out, taking privileges), calm, self-controlled parenting fosters calm, self-controlled behavior in children. Many parents who spank do so in a violent, rageful manner. THIS is what creates a violent child, not the spanking.

Second, did the spanking parents also yell and scream and otherwise verbally abuse the child? A child can avoid spanking but still get the parent’s rage; sometimes violent words are enough to induce violent fantasies and urges in a child.

Third, did the parent also “rage out” on other siblings? So child #1 doesn’t get spanked, but witnesses Mom or Dad raging at a sibling. This isn’t healthy either.

Fourth, was the child spanked by just one parent, both parents, other adults, other siblings, etc.?
Fifth, did the parent use spanking for all disciplinary measures or were Time Out and other methods also used? This is key. I would agree wholeheartedly with the anti-spanking camp that spanking should not be the primary method of discipline. It can lose its effectiveness over time, never teaches new patterns of behavior, often only frightens a child into compliance, and holds some risk.

However, a parent who calmly spanks a child after explaining why the child is being spanked and does so only to create a foundation for other primary methods of discipline (such as Time Out) is never going to develop a pattern of violence in the child. Never.

The American Academy of Pediatrics admits that spanking can stop a child from misbehaving in the short-term. Exactly. During that initial short-term period, parents should transition to Time Out to train their child to obey and respect others. Many children respond to self-controlled, reasonable spanking with an adjustment in their attitude toward parents.

Should children live in abject fear of their parents? Heck no. Should there be a modicum of fear, such that induces the child to respect the parent and submit to his or her authority? Absolutely. Spanking achieves this, if done properly. Then Time Outs and other methods can do their work.

In the end, this study has little benefit to the scientific debate. It does, however, help the anti-spanking zealots’ crusade.


  1. Thank You! I couldn't agree more

  2. I agree. I dont have any kids but I do believe in spanking as an effective disciplinary method for kids. As they age, some other means might be necessary. From personal experience, at eleven I wished my parents would beat me instead of taking the t.v.

  3. What strikes me (no pun intended) is how we can salute "The Greatest Generation" (WWII era), for whom childhood corporal punishment was the norm, then turn around and believe that only a monster would resort to spanking.

    I've seen cases where a parent has stood in abject helplessness before a raging child, obviously afraid to be physical. This helps no one, and the child least of all.

  4. I started spanking mine after NOT spanking them for the first 5 years of their lives. I was afraid to spank because my parents had only spanked in anger, after yelling a very long time. Plus they spanked until they felt better. Therefore, it was not good for me to spank until I figured out the right way to spank.

    I set myself limits: no more than 3 swats, no less than 1 swat. I determined 3 swats would only happen for dangerous behavior. 1 swat was to keep me consistent for those times I didn't feel like handling the problem. I.e., they would get discipline consistently.

    The swat had to sting, but it could not be harmful. And they had to know the rules, ie., what to expect. And no more than one warning.

    What I did not expect was that I would go almost overnight from a mother who lost her temper ALL THE TIME to one who never lost her temper.

    When I saw a child break a rule. I gave one warning. When/if the child repeated the behavior, I gave the swats, usually two.

    The end result is they did behave better. My yelling stopped. They began trusting me to keep my word. Everything got better.

    They are grown now. They are not violent. They are college graduates. They never did drugs or had promiscuous behavior. They also were not rebellious.

    Rules without relationship is an awful thing and a relationship without rules is an awful thing, too.

    Looking back at things, I have now come to the belief that yelling is more emotionally damaging. I think it is sad that yelling is more acceptable than spanking. But spanking done badly is awful, too.

    This is a difficult subject. Hope my story helps somebody.