Myth Debunked: Why We Are Choosing Not To Spank Our Kids

Wow this is a topic that I have been looking forward to covering and one I have been slightly nervous about at the same time because it really is a HOT button topic with a lot of parents. ‘Spanking your child’ is one of the most common debate topics out there in the parenting world and there are those that feel strongly about their side of the fence. Right now, to me, it feels a little bit like the political world. The country is basically divided in half and everyone feels like their opinions are right, everyone else is wrong, and people simply cannot understand how someone would disagree. I did some research for this one and found out about half the country thinks spanking is okay and the other half doesn’t. Professionals like pediatricians and psychologists disagree on if it’s okay or not. So, this is not a one-sided debate.

 But, what do I want to cover here today? Well, I want to discuss my thoughts and feelings on spanking and then I want to share with you some research that I have done, and finally, I want to go over some discipline tactics that seem to be effective. I want to first point out the obvious to many of you that my own daughter Savannah is nine months old and so I have never had to discipline her for anything. I do not have any experience of my own being the one to try and effectively change a negative behavior. I have never been frustrated with my child for repeatedly making the same mistakes over and over again. I think that’s important to point out because most of the things I try to discuss on here are things that I have personally experienced as a dad so I can share my experience. Today, I want to talk about a topic that I feel strongly about and one that I have already made up my mind on.

The last point I want to make before I jump into today’s topic is if you are reading this and you are someone who has already spanked your child or are currently in that stage of parenting and do choose to spank your child, I hope you know that I am not trying to say that is wrong, that you are a BAD parent, or that I am trying to shame spankers in any way. I disagree with that tactic on a personal level and that will impact my behavior as a dad, but I am not trying to change the way other parents discipline their own kids. I’m not judging those that spank in any way. Parenting is one of those things that everyone does a little differently and that’s okay. Alex and I are trying to share our thoughts on various subjects, we don’t want to shy away from a controversial subject, but again, we are not experts. We are simply happy to share our story.

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Let’s STOP and ask ourselves “Why?”

I think the first thing we should do is stop and ask ourselves as parents, “why?”

  • Why am I upset with our child?
    • Is this behavior simply annoying to me? Is it illegal? Is it unethical? Is it potentially harmful to their health? Will this behavior lead to other poor behaviors?
  • Why am I choosing to punish or discipline our child?
    • Is this something that a serious discussion could solve? Was the behavior worthy of a consequence, or was I just frustrated at the time?
  • Why is our child doing this?
    • What is causing this behavior? Does my child have good positive influences in their life? How are their peers behaving? Is there another deeper issue? Is my form of discipline effective?
  • Why is our child doing this, again?
    • Obviously, the form of discipline in the past isn’t effective, now what?
  • Why I am choosing spanking as a form of punishment for this behavior?
    • Did I make a conscious choice to spank my child? Did I learn somewhere that spanking was effective or is it just my opinion? Do I simply believe spanking is the most effective way because my parents did it to me? Was there some research or education along the way that said spanking was effective? Did my pediatrician recommend spanking?

I think it is important for a parent to stop and really spend some time thinking through these things. Sometimes an idea will form in someone’s mind at an early point in time. It could be a long time ago. That person may not even really remember how it got there. Maybe the person is in high school or college having a classroom discussion about spanking and the class is basically divided, and the teacher leads an organized discussion. That person feels like spanking wins because a few people made some points they agreed with or maybe even someone they liked felt like spanking was okay and that was convincing. Now, 10-15 years later that person is a parent and along the way whenever the topic of spanking came up, that person would say, “I think spanking is okay.” Now they spank their kids. Obviously, this is an extreme example, but I do believe that as people we often have opinions and even strong opinions that are there because we formed it a long time ago and we are sticking to it.

I knew someone whose child was constantly acting out and it was causing some problems at home and in both the child and the parent’s day to day life. He spanked his child and the child continued to display the same behavior. The parent told me the solution was that he was going to have to spank him harder. He firmly believed that spanking was the best form of discipline and that it was effective on him when he was a child.

I think we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard than that. I believe we owe it to our kids to spend a little time trying to educate ourselves on parenting tactics and side effects of parenting methods. It’s so much easier to look up things today. Parents can go to their pediatrician but also there are a ton of pediatrician podcasts, blogs, and websites out there. There are the parenting blogs and research articles. The old cliché, “you don’t get a parenting guide” is true, no one does give you a book that tells you how to be a good parent. But there actually are thousands of books and other forms of media out there that actually do give you a guide. It’s up to us as parents to take the time to teach ourselves.  

Consequences Vs. Punishments

I found this awesome podcast that talks about the difference between a consequence and a punishment. In it they talk about five elements of effective consequences that you need to use in order to see behavior change:

  • Immediate
    • The podcasts says the consequence should be immediate, within a couple hours of the bad behavior if possible. This can get extended a little bit as your child gets older into their teens, but when they are young it’s important to be immediate.
    • Most children cannot comprehend why a certain behavior that happened on Tuesday is being punished on Friday, Saturday, Sunday.
    • It goes on to say that a punishment should never be two weeks or absolutely not two months.
  • Degree/Size
    • The consequence needs to match the crime.
    • The podcasts used the example of coming home late versus not coming home at all. One is obviously worse than the other and so you want to think about making sure you aren’t using a consequence that is too large or too small in comparison to the bad behavior.
  • Consistent
    • The consequence itself doesn’t need to be consistent and actually the 5th element is variance. It’s just that bad behavior should always receive a consequence. You wouldn’t have to give your child a consequence one week and then nothing the next week for the same behavior.
    • Your child needs to understand, if they do the behavior, there is going to be a consequence.
  • Important
    • Does your child care about the consequence? It needs to be something important to the child.
    • You might have to try out different things to really learn what consequence is really going to make a lasting impact.
  • Varied
    • The consequence needs to be varied.
    • You want to change things up. A child can start to associate one bad behavior with one consequence, and you want to avoid your child starting to ask themselves, “is it worth it?” For example, if your child is thinking about staying out past their curfew and they know that means XYZ every time, they may decide that they are willing to sacrifice XYZ this time because they really want to stay out late. If they never really know what the consequence might be, that will help eliminate train of thought.

My Research

I would like to provide articles I found during my research for today’s blog. Here is an article by Scientific American that goes over just exactly what ‘Science” does and does not say about spanking. This is the article that specifically highlighted that American parents are divided about in half on this topic. They found it was difficult to measure “spanking” because other forms of punishment get looped in such as pinching, slapping, and hitting children with objects such as a belt, etc. They also found it really difficult to measure if spanking was effective or not and again found that scientists, phycologist, pediatricians, and parents all disagreed.

Here is a popular blog website, the conversation.com which uses a conversation style similar to how I do with my blogs to discuss various topics in the world. This blog is filled with lots of sources on the subject of spanking and came to the conclusion that spanking was harmful to the child and was not a good tactic for parents. One of there studies they sourced by the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners said Corporal Punishment (CP) is an important risk factor for children developing a pattern of impulsive and antisocial behavior…[and] children who experience frequent CP… are more likely to engage in violent behaviors in adulthood. Another article sourced by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry noted …although corporal punishment may have a high rate of immediate behavior modification, it is ineffective over time, and is associated with increased aggression and decreased moral internalization of appropriate behavior.

Okay so what is this saying? Well first of all, Corporal Punishment in this context means physical abuse, specifically spanking, but this is a broad term meant to include pinching, slapping, and forms of hitting with a physical object. The biggest thing that sticks out to me is “violent behavior in adulthood” and “effective immediately but ineffective over time.” Studies are showing that spanking may have long term side effects on your children.

As always, I like to include an article that has the opposite of my personal view. This article came out shortly after Adrian Peterson was arrested for abusing his son. The article points out that when this happened, an immediate debate among the bloggers began about spanking and if it was okay. The article points out that spanking can be okay if done within limits. It says it shouldn’t be done when the parent is frustrated or out of rage. It should be done in an appropriate manner and not too hard. It argues that if done within proper guidelines, spanking can be effective. My push back on that argument is #1, I think in the real world, always following those proper guidelines would be very difficult for any parent to stay within. And #2, we have research that tells us that spanking is harmful long term so even if you did remain in those guidelines 100% of the time, you’re still causing long-term negative side effects.

Common Myths About Spanking

I wanted to share a full-length research article I found called Ten Myths About Spanking Children. This article goes in depth on each myth and I highly encourage you to click on the link and check it out. It definitely has that journal feel to it, but you can scroll though the myths and find some cool stuff pretty quickly. Here are the 10 myths:

  1. Spanking works better than other methods
  2. Spanking is needed as a last resort
  3. Spanking is harmless: I was spanked and I’m OK
  4. One or two instances are not going to cause any damage
  5. Parents can’t stop unless they get training in alternatives
  6. If you can’t spank, children will be spoiled, run wild, etc.
  7. Parents do it only rarely or only for serious problems
  8. By the time, a child is a teenager, parents have stopped
  9. If parents don’t spank, they will verbally abuse a child
  10. It is unrealistic to expect parents to never spank

Effective Discipline Methods

Lastly, I wanted to provide some effective alternative discipline methods to spanking. Here is a blog post from Very Well Family that lays out very nice some effective alternatives to spanking. Throughout my research, a common push back I noticed from the ‘spanking is okay side of the fence’ was that it shouldn’t be that hard to parent. ‘We shouldn’t have to ty that hard’ or parenting should be really easy’. I would challenge that viewpoint and argue that parenting and raising your child should be something that you care about to the highest degree and one that you are willing to put in the proper time to educate yourself on.

I remember having a discussion with a coworker once and telling him that I personally have always been one that does best with external validation and positive reinforcement as opposed to negative punishment. This gentleman was older than me and came from a different generation. He did have three kids that were all gone up (so it was too late for them) and he looked at me like I was crazy. He said, “why should I have to do that, shouldn’t you just be a grown up, I don’t need to tell my kids every time they do something good and I’m going to give them a quick whooping if they do something bad.”

Again, this post is only meant to be my discussing my opinions and my experiences. Here are the eight alternatives this blog post discusses:

  • Time-Out
  • Losing Privileges
  • Ignoring Mild Misbehavior
  • Teaching New Skills
  • Logical Consequences
  • Natural Consequences
  • Rewards for Good Behavior
  • Praise for Good Behavior

Wrap Up

What do you think? Do you agree with me? Tell me in the comments below. I would love to hear from all of you on your thoughts and opinions on this topic. I would love to hear from you if you were personally spanked and if you think it had any long term or lasting effects on you. Can you remember what you thought in that moment? I know a lot of you aren’t going to agree with me. In fact, probably about half of the people that read this, won’t agree, according to my research anyway. That is okay. You can reach out to Alex and I on Instagram or Facebook with your thoughts!! Thanks for reading and happy parenting!!