IMHO, usually parents spank their children for one (or more) of several reasons.
- They have come to believe that spanking “works.”
- They have been told or educated about reasons for spanking, such as the old “spare the rod, spoil the child” message.
- They experienced spanking themselves and have concluded, “I got spanked and I turned out okay.”
- They are unaware of other discipline strategies they can use to get positive results, without hitting their children.
Each of these reasons are myths or the results of misinformation. If I wanted to get into a debate with parents who spank their children, I could easily win the argument based on logical and scientific reasoning. But, ironically, in winning the argument, I would lose the debate . . . principally because most parents who spank aren’t open to logical argument about whether or not spanking is a good thing. Instead of winning the debate, I’d be rupturing my relationship with the parents.
Over the years, I’ve learned to avoid rational argument and scientific evidence, and tell parents about these 7 “secrets” instead:
- Acknowledge that parents and child development researchers agree on one point: Spanking is usually effective at stopping or suppressing misbehavior in the moment.
- If you have spanked your child in the past, you are not a bad person; you’re just a parent who’s trying to make a positive difference.
- Most parents who spank their children have mixed feelings about hitting their child before, during, and after the spanking.
- I’ve never met a parent who wants to spank their children more; nearly all parents are looking for ways to spank their children less
- Even though it’s hard for some parents to believe, from the scientific perspective, spanking is linked to far too many negative outcomes to justify its use. In particular, spanking has adverse effects on mental health, emotional well-being, and child, adolescent and adult behaviors. The science on this is very one-sided in that there’s lots of science indicating spanking has negative long-term effects and very little evidence linking spanking to anything positive in the long run.
- If you want to spank less, you’ll need to identify, practice, and implement alternative discipline strategies. . . and that will be hard; it will take time, energy, and patience.
- It might help to think about learning to spank less as a sacrifice you make because you love your children. No doubt, learning and practicing alternatives to spanking won’t be the first or last sacrifice you make to be a parent. But, using alternatives to spanking might be the most long-lasting contribution you can make to your child’s future well-being and success.
- Medical and scientific organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, and nearly every professional group on the planet, advise against using corporal punishment (including no spanking). However—and this is incredibly important—the recommendations are NOT anti-discipline. In fact, mainstream scientific views are consistent with parents as leaders, authority figures who set limits and deliver natural and logical consequences to help children learn what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable. Children need their parents to set limits, because children (including teenagers) are not very good at setting healthy limits for themselves.
As my former doctoral students would attest, I’m passionate about teaching parents not to spank their children. I’m also passionate about teaching parents how to use constructive and educational approaches to discipline.
For more on this topic, check out my recent article for The Good Men Project: https://goodmenproject.com/families/how-to-discipline-children-better-without-spanking-kpkn/