Experts report that spanking is the least effective form of discipline

What is done to children, they will do to society (Karl A. Menninger)

Spanking is in the news again. Why write about it? Because of the inconsistency between the facts that most experts agree spanking is harmful while most parents believe it is helpful. The arguments against spanking are hardly new. Shortly after Christ, Plutarch taught, “Children ought to be lead to honorable practices by encouragement and reasoning, and most certainly not by blows and ill treatment.”

Many of the court cases dealing with spanking involve Christians demanding the right to practice corporal punishment. They claim they are directed to do so by the Bible (Prov. 13:24, 19:18, 22:15, 23:13, 23:14, and 29:15). Why do followers of Christ turn to the Old Testament (The Book of Proverbs) for child rearing advice?

Do they base their adult relationships on the Old Testament law of “an eye for an eye” (Leviticus 24:20, Exodus 21:24, and Deuteronomy 19:21)? Or do they follow the new law of Christ, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:38-39)

Do they turn to the teachings of Christ for their adult relationships and the proverbs of King Solomon for rearing their children? If so, isn’t this inconsistent? Also, didn’t Christ teach that children are close to God and we should be like them? And how effective was King Solomon’s advice not to spare the rod? Not very. His own son, Rehoboam, became a ruthless dictator who narrowly escaped being stoned to death for his brutality. So, maybe the experts are right, after all. At any rate, let’s consider what they have to say.

Wrong Message
The worst aspect of spanking is the message it sends to children. With each slap they receive, we are telling them, “See how it is okay for big people to hit little people? If you don’t get your way, you can always get violent!” Where did schoolyard bullies come from? Did they appear out of nowhere? Or is it possible that when we bully our children into submission they too become bullies? The more we hit our kids, the more they hit other kids. And what do we do when the teacher tells us our child hit another child? We hit them some more to “teach them a lesson,” thereby perpetuating the problem! If we have to rear children in a violent world, does it make sense to treat them violently? Do we really want to add to the violence? Don ’t we have enough commonsense to realize that violence begets violence?

Experts report that spanking is the least effective form of discipline. So, when we discover it isn’t working, what do some of us do? Escalate the brutality! After all, if it isn’t working, it must be because we have been too soft on them! And where does this behavior lead to? The graveyard. Each year about 44 Canadian children are killed by family members. The ‘lucky’ children aren’t killed; they’re ‘just’ physically abused. “Eighty-five percent of all cases of physical abuse result from some form of over-discipline through the use of corporal punishment,” reports the Institute for the Prevention of Child Abuse.

Yes, experts have established causal links between spanking and bullying, cheating, lying, vandalism, disobedience, aggression, anger, seething resentment, violence, spousal abuse, a lower IQ, and criminality. This is a heavy toll for society to pay. But worst of all is the needless suffering of innocent children who are brutalized by those entrusted with their care. When children turn out bad, it is because they have been carefully trained by us. They learn their values not from the pious words we espouse, but from the actions we take.

Grave Psychological Harm
Irvin Wolkoff ‘s article, “Spanked child can become self-loathing adult,” was published in the November 26, 1999 edition of The Toronto Star (page F4). In it he wrote, “The message a toddler gets from a slap or spanking is that a parent or other loved and trusted adult is prepared to induce pain and even do physical harm to force unquestioning obedience. That’s terrifying to a little kid…However well-intentioned, a slap registers as the shattering of the whole deal between parent and child. Young children are left awash in feelings of fear, shame, rage, hostility, self-destructiveness and betrayal that they can’t yet resolve or manage.”

The anger that children are not allowed to express is repressed. Once they grow big and strong enough to resist authority, their rage emerges in explosive outbursts. Of course, we then blame them for the misbehavior we have caused. Spanking and scolding children causes great confusion in their minds. How can immature children understand ideas such as “I hurt you because I don’t want you to get hurt”?

One of the main reasons children get spanked is because they act “disrespectful” toward their parents. Yet, as Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, founder of the Child Development Unit at the Boston Children’s Hospital Medical Center, points out, “When you spank, you are not respectful of the child.” No wonder children are confused, perplexed, and bewildered.

Ignores the Causes of the Problem
Spanking ignores the causes of the problem. For example, a child is taken to an amusement park for a day’s enjoyment. Instead of being grateful (so the parents think), the child acts up, embarrassing the parents in public. Result? The child is quickly escorted to the washroom, where it receives a spanking. But the child was “acting up” because of normal needs it had. It may have been hungry, tired, or bored. So, we punish children for being children!

Look at how loving parents would have behaved in the same circumstances. “What’s the matter, honey? What’s bothering you?”

“I’m hungry!” or “I’m sleepy!” or “I don’t want to go there; I want to run and play in the grass!”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Let’s do what you want to do. Do you know why?”


“Because we love you! Ha! Ha! Let’s go!”

Sometimes it takes a little work to find the cause of a child’s “misbehavior.” If the parents are impatient, they may turn to spanking, which provides a quick, easy fix. Let’s not pretend spanking is for the child’s own good. It is not. It’s for our convenience. If spanked, the child is shortchanged, robbed of important quality time with their parent. Ironically, the more quality time is denied, the more the child will misbehave, as that is the only way it knows to get attention. I guess the moral is, we cannot correct a child’s misbehavior unless we know the cause. So, instead of hitting, let’s talk. Instead of displaying anger, let’s shower our child with love.

Finally, although I love the Book of Proverbs, I admit I disagree with King Solomon’s child-rearing techniques. I prefer to listen to the admonition of Christ, who said, “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.” (Luke 17:2)



  1. I believe abuse is very different from spanking. Would you not agree?

    Abuse is not only physical but verbal. You can create demons when combining these two techniques.

    Spanking is an extreme action taken to reinforce that an extreme action is being met with and defined as an extreme situation. Hope that makes sense but if not let me explain. If my son hits my daughter (punches her in the stomach or face) – won’t the circumstance of a spank reinforce to him that this is extreme unacceptable behavior? In other words, my son will not get a spank if he irritates his sister or calls her names but the extreme physical violence he displays in the moment merits an extreme and justified action on my part.

    For the record, i’ve spanked my son probably 2-3 times in his life. He is 5 years old. Does this make me an abusive father? Will my son become a bully in school because of it? Am i a bully?

    I’m not disagreeing with you Chuck but I do think that clear methods have to be written out that can help a parent reduce and possibly omit physical (and inappropriate verbal) reprimand from the rearing of children.

    I also want to mention how guilty i feel after spanking or even just yelling at my kids. It’s so primitive and i feel ashamed. I certainly welcome alternatives.

    I will say that my awareness and conscious helps me improve as a parent day by day. My relationship with my children is beautiful for the most part. And we both know and feel it.

    Thank you,


  2. My point is being that there is a (BIG) difference between spanking your child for good reason, and going straight to a spanking to get immediate results, even though it may be unnecessary. As with almost everything in life, there are extremes and there is a middle ground in between.

    I was spanked when I was a child, and you know what I remember? NOT repeating what I was spanked for. I only got a few, and they worked. Do I hold a grudge? No way! I barely remember it, and my life was full of love and laughter growing up. On the other hand, my sister didn’t even blink when she was spanked. So for her, time-outs were the answer. Every child is different, and a good parent will weigh the punishment against the crime, for each child accordingly.

    More power to you if you can raise a well behaved, happy child without a single spanking, but please don’t make assumptions that those of us who do give them are abusive to our children, or that we don’t love and care for their future just as much as you do.

  3. Why do you assume that parents who spank their children don’t ask what is wrong beforehand, or care enough about their children to try and solve the problem first? Your examples are so extreme that it seems unfair to compare the two. Specifically, I would never spank my child because they were crying due to hunger, sleepiness, or for just being fussy. Running out in the middle of the street, yes. That is an important lesson that needs to be learned immediately and efficiently, as it is not worth the risk. But again, extremes set aside, time-outs and/or toys taken away will always be my first rule of punishment under normal circumstances. Just because someone may spank their children does not mean that it happens every day or in anger, or without good reason. You make it sound that people who spank look for reasons to do it – and don’t bother to think about whether or not it’s appropriate, which I can assure you is not always the case, and never in my case.

  4. Bullocks!! This article and this touchy feely train of thought is complete and utter bullocks. I’m not advocating child abuse, yet let’s face the facts. In the late 1800 early 1900 hitting your child as a form of corrective action was the norm and correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t those generations grow to say, invent the modern asembly line, invent telecommunications, but satalites orbit, put men on the moon, split the atom. Seems to me evidence does not support that theory very well.

  5. “The message a toddler gets from a slap or spanking is that a parent or other loved and trusted adult is prepared to induce pain and even do physical harm to force unquestioning obedience. That’s terrifying to a little kid…However well-intentioned, a slap registers as the shattering of the whole deal between parent and child. Young children are left awash in feelings of fear, shame, rage, hostility, self-destructiveness and betrayal that they can’t yet resolve or manage.”

    This … sums me up. I am 56 and when my parents spanked me they lost me – my love and care and I lost my respect for them. I never felt loved as the post spanking pep talk of ‘oh we love you’ never held water with me, after all, they had just HIT me. Which I wasn’t allowed to do .. so they were also hypocrites and liars. They, as you say, shattered my world and vision of my loving parents. They alienated me. And they never got me back.

    Discipline with love and gentleness, with respect!

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